Monsters

author: azzy
beta: Europolarist and Robotkumo
challenge: MEBB ’16
warning: Universe Alteration, Crossover, Synths (Humans), paradise falls (slavers), Ambiguous/Open Ending, Hurt/Comfort
rating: M
fandom: Mass Effect/Fallout 3
pairring: Kaidan/MShep
summary: Kaidan desperately wants a promotion and takes on an assignment with Elder Lyons’ daughter Sarah. Together they are sent out to find one of the infiltrators from the great war, an ancient artifact made of synthetic skin and wires.
AN: Alright so this is maybe the strangest story I ever wrote, and absolutely the story I ever edited the most. Very inspired by Screamers and Blade Runner. I want to thank Europolarist and Robotkumo for the beta work, and an extra thanks to Robotkumo for not letting me freak out and keeping me on track. And of course a big thank you to Ruby who made the awesome friggin art! I am in love with your style!

Link to Ruby’s art
Link to Ruby’s playlist
Link to my own playlist

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“We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial—I believe we are lost.”

― Erich Maria Remarque


 

[He didn’t remember why he was here, the ground littered with dead and dying soldiers. He could hear faint gunfire in the distance, the battle wasn’t over yet and it was time to get to work. He knew what to do because his programming told him so.

Once the Chinese had used kamikaze soldiers in planes, now they had kamikaze soldiers on the field instead. Not living breathing soldiers, something altogether completely different, built for one purpose, built for a one-way trip. Their purpose in life was to act out their orders, and the modifications and artificial enhancements made sure that the soldier would not question its orders, but they would also not be weighed down by moral dilemmas or pain. He was not a man, and he would never be. He was the most advanced weapon in the war against the Americans.

He took a gun from a dead soldier and without hesitation placed the muzzle on his left shoulder, taking a deep breath he pulled the trigger. The pain shot through him like an electrified shock wave, but it didn’t deter him. He stood there in the midst of the other soldiers on the ground for a while, until he raised the gun once more, placing it against his cheek, this time he closed his eyes and a tiny coil of fear, which his programming didn’t allow, stirred in his chest. And then he pulled the trigger, falling to his knees and the ringing to his ears so intense that he forgot where he was for a moment. The soldier spat out blood and broken tooth on the ground.

Protocol said that clean shots to both these areas were necessary.

The soldier whimpered in pain, his eyesight blurred. Holding on to his gun he slowly started to make his way towards the gunfire he heard in the distance. Blood pooling in his mouth, and his left arm dangling like a broken branch, he would find his target, but first he needed to find the Americans.]

-*-

“Sarah are you listening?” Elder Lyons said, his tone between annoyed and amused.

Sarah sighed and turned to look at her father, “I am listening.”

Kaidan didn’t even turn to look at her, he was staring at the woman in the cryotank before them. She looked like a housewife from the old commercial posters he had seen, or maybe like that lady on a cereal box.

“As I was saying…” Elder Lyons said placing a hand on the cryotank, “This is Miranda, we have had her here for longer than I have been alive.” He smiled to himself.

“She is a weapon?” Sarah asked confused.

“Very much so.” Elder Lyons said, he wet his lips. “Miss Miranda here was made by the Chinese just before the bombs fell. She was lovingly called ‘the grieving woman’.”

“Wait, that would make her 164 years old.” Kaidan said softly.

“True.” Elder Lyons said with a nod. “But Miss Miranda here isn’t a person, she isn’t in a cryotank because we’re trying to preserve her, she is here because she is too dangerous otherwise.”

“It’s a robot?” Sarah asked.

“Yes and no.” Elder Lyons said. “She is artificial but, she can breathe, cry, bleed, eat and think. Not a robot, not an android, but something completely different.” He turned his head and looked at Miranda, “Who could say no to a beautiful crying woman, searching in desperation after her husband or child.”

Sarah and Kaidan looked at each other in confusion.

“The Chinese made three versions of this weapon. Miranda, the grieving woman, Shepard, the wounded soldier and Ellie, the orphaned child.” Elder Lyons said, waiting for the two young sentinels to let it sink in.  “All three versions had the same agenda, different goals. They were planted to infiltrate and kill their target, or entire patrols if they had to. They would never get tired, and never give up.”

“That’s a bit scary.” Kaidan said hushed.

“Indeed.” Elder Lyons said. “Now, I didn’t bring you down here to meet Miranda for nothing. We’ve been getting some intel from out Fort Bannister that there might still be one of these things on the loose. The information is lacking, so I have no idea what we’re looking for, or even if the intel is right.”

“So, we could be trying to find a ghost?” Sarah asked.

“Yes.” Elder Lyons said, “And the information available from operation Trojan is mostly destroyed. Just because we know about these three infiltrators, doesn’t mean there aren’t more.”

“How many did they make of each made of each model? Do we know?” Kaidan asked without ever taking his eyes of the woman in the tank in front of him.

“Only one as far as we know.” Elder Lyons answered.

Sarah sighed and turned to her father, “How are we to know if we find it?”

“Good question.” Elder Lyons said, “Like Miranda here, what you are looking for is a master of disguise, and if it has survived for this many years, probably very good at what it’s doing.”

“What about a scanner?” Kaidan asked, “Like for androids?”

“Androids don’t have a heartbeat, these things do.” Elder Lyons said, and nodded towards the monitor which registered Miranda’s heartbeat and health.

Both Sarah and Kaidan sighed.

“Come.” Elder Lyons walked away from the cryotank and towards the elevator up. “The best advice I can give you, is make a spectacle and hope it makes an appearance.”

“But if it’s so good at hiding, surely two sentinels looking for it won’t matter,” Sarah said, pushing the button on the elevator.

“EMP,” Kaidan suddenly said, turning towards Elder Lyons and Sarah. “Wouldn’t an EMP blast temporarily disable it?”

“In theory,” Elder Lyons said, “since it does have a hardware chip, we can see it from scans of Miranda, but we are not sure what it does.”

“Better than nothing,” Sarah shrugged.

“One more thing.” Elder Lyons warned, “It’s imperative that we get it alive.”

-*-

Sarah and Kaidan walked into the settlement of Moonbright Palladium the next morning. Had they not been so tired they would have laughed at the town limits sign that looked like an old cinema marquee. Kaidan took off his helmet and looked around.

“There is a bar over there,” he said, cocking his head to the left. Of course there’s a bar, he chuckled to himself. It didn’t matter if a settlement had just two tents, it would have a bar.

As they entered, the few patrons inside turned around and stared at the two sentinels.

Kaidan smiled awkwardly in their direction before turning to face the woman working behind the bar, “We need rations.”

The bartender just stared at them for several long seconds before asking, “What are you willing to trade?”

“Ehm, well, that is the thing,” Kaidan said, leaning in over the bar. “We were attacked on our way, and…“

“So nothing,” the woman chuckled. “Sorry, can’t help you.”

“Told you so,” Sarah huffed in her helmet.

“There has to be something you could do for us,” Kaidan said, looking around the bar.

One of the nearby patrons pointed at Kaidan’s blaster, “That rifle of yours is pretty neat.”

“But…” Kaidan looked down at his blaster and was grateful the helmet hid the expression on his face. The reality was that the weapon was broken and probably not worth much.

“Crazy John by the old gas station might give you a good price,” the barkeep said, “He buys all sorts of scrap.”

“Really?” Kaidan asked, “Where’s the gas station?”

“Head back outside and aim for the gas station sign,” the patron answered, laughing at Kaidan’s stupidity.

Kaidan turned and looked at Sarah. “Let’s go have a chat with crazy John then.” He ushered her out the door.

Outside on the street she swatted his hands away, “What the fuck, man? You can’t sell your blaster.”

“You’d rather starve?” Kaidan asked surprised. He shook his head amused, “I keep forgetting that you didn’t grow up out here like the rest of us.”

Sarah huffed, clearly offended, but didn’t argue.

“What’s the harm in asking? Let’s just go see what he’s willing to pay, and if he’s even willing to buy,” Kaidan said as he started to walk towards the gas sign a little ways outside the settlement.

“Don’t sell it for anything under 100 caps,” Sarah whispered as they walked down the hill towards the gas station.

“Do you take me for an idiot?” Kaidan asked.

“I take you for hungry,” Sarah laughed mirthlessly.

As they approached, two dogs came out from the shade inside the gas station. They didn’t bark or growl at the pair, they just circled Kaidan and Sarah, quietly observing.

“Hello?” Kaidan called out, making the dogs begin to bark.

A man, wearing coveralls and dark aviators came out from the garage and waved. “Howdy,” he said  lazily.

“You John? We come to trade.”

“Could you call your dogs off?” Sarah yelled.

The man seemed to think about it but then snapped his fingers, “Dogs, inside.” And the two dogs instantly turned around and slowly trotted back into the garage. He walked out into the middle of the path through his scrap yard. “Let me see what you have.”

Kaidan and Sarah walked down the path towards the man they assumed was John, since he neither confirmed or denied it.

He didn’t look crazy, not in the ‘wear my grandma’s dress and drink my own pee’ crazy anyway, thought Kaidan. He wondered about the aviator shades, but then again the guy might just not like the sun. “I wanted to hear what your best price is for this.” Kaidan handed John his blaster rifle.

John turned the rifle in his hands and opened the micro fusion battery hatch looking inside. “20 caps,” he said.

“Come on,” Kaidan said, egging the man on. “It’s worth more than that.”

John rose an unsurprised brow in their direction.

“No it’s not. It’s broken.” He weighed the rifle in his hand a thoughtful expression on his face. “It will need a new trigger mechanism, and the fusion direction chip is done for. It will cost more than 50 caps to fix it, so actually I lose caps if I buy it.”

“Somehow I don’t believe that,” Sarah said, hand on her hip.

“Would I lie to the Brotherhood of Steel?” John asked with a mock shocked expression, “Do I look like I have a death wish?”

“I have yet to meet a merchant who’d willingly buy something that would cause him to lose money on the deal.” Kaidan said with an amused grin.

“Alright,” John answered with a little laugh, “I didn’t lie though, it will cost a lot to repair this, so as it is now it’s hardly worth its weight in metal.” He looked at Sentinel Lyons, “But that one I’d pay top caps for.” He pointed at the EMP device.

“Not for sale,” Sarah said firmly, covering the device with her hand.

“Suit yourself,” John shrugged, “But it would pay for repairs of this one,” He held up the broken blaster rifle, “And I would pay you additional 100 caps.”

“We need it for…” Sarah paused, glancing at Kaidan, “What do you say?”

“We don’t need it,” Kaidan confirmed, “We don’t even know if it would work.”

“Alright,” Sarah said with a hesitant nod. “You got a deal, John.”

“Wait there, I’ll get your caps for you.” He turned and walked back into the garage. When he returned with a bag of coins for them, he handed them to Sarah, “Count them, they’re all there.”

“I will,” Sarah said drily.

“Could I uhh, ask a favor?” Kaidan asked scratching his cheek idly. “I need to tighten some screws on this power armor, could I maybe borrow your tools?”

“Sure.” John shrugged. “It’ll cost you a drink cowboy.”

“Fair enough,” Kaidan laughed. He turned to Sarah, “You go back to the settlement, get a room and get some sleep, we’ll buy some rations tomorrow and move on.”

“Alright,” Sarah said. “I have been dying to sleep in a real bed for ages.”

“See you tomorrow then,” Kaidan said.

Sarah dug up a handful of caps from the purse and held them out to Kaiden, “Here, that should be enough for a room and a drink.”

“You know me so well.” Kaidan chuckled, his cheeks heating up a little.

“I know your taste in men,” Sarah said drily, but broke off in a grin. “See you tomorrow, cowboy.”

Kaidan just shook his head, but she was right. It was true his power armor needed some minor repairs, but it wasn’t something he had to do now. He found himself curious about John, why would someone like him choose to live way out here alone. He walked into the darkness of the garage. Unable to see where John was he asked loudly, “Where can I park this thing?”

“Where ever,” John yelled from the back.

“Alright.” And with the release of the hydraulic locks, the power armor opened allowing Kaidan to step out of the large one-pieced armor. He stretched his legs and arms, bending his back till it made a cracking sound. (Something about his forehead cut here.) He had been wearing that damn armor for so long that it was strange not wearing it.

The dogs were wandering inside the garage, and one of them came over to Kaidan and sniffed him.

“Hey there, buddy.” Kaidan knelt down and pet the dog. “What’s its name?” he asked.

“Her name is Dog,” John said with a shrug as he picked up a box of tools. The trader walked over to Kaidan and put the toolbox down on the floor beside him. “She likes you.”

“Dog, huh?” Kaidan chuckled as the dog licked his face. “What about the other one?”

“Her name is also Dog.” John said, “Just made things easier.”

Kaidan laughed, “Can’t argue with that.” He scratched Dog behind the ear.

“Tools,” John said nodding at the toolbox, “If you need anything else, let me know.”

“Sure thing,” Kaidan said as he reached for the toolbox. “So you think you can get that blaster working?”

“Don’t know,” John muttered. After a moment John took a seat on a nearby stool, swiveling around to face his workbench. “I never asked your name,” he said softly, running his hands over the pistol.

“Kaidan,” Kaidan said politely. “Originally, I’m from Anchorage.”

“You’re a long way from home,” John said tilting his head slightly to the left to see Kaidan tinkering with his power armor. “Can I ask what made you come down here?”

“Sure,” Kaidan said and leaned out from behind the large metallic form to look at John, “If I can ask you what you’re doing out here living as a hermit.”

“Fair enough.” Kaidan could hear the shy smile in John’s voice as he spoke “So what made you come down here?”

“I wanted to serve under Elder Lyons,” Kaidan said with a thoughtful smile, “I heard that he was a man of great wisdom and integrity. I wanted to serve under him since I joined the brotherhood.”

“Senior sentinel then?”

“Yep,” Kaidan said with a little embarrassed shrug. “I didn’t arrive in Washington until two years ago though.” He looked up at John, “Your turn.”

“I live out here because I hate people, and they tend to hate me.” John let out a short burst bitter laugh.

“Bullshit.”

“Not one bit. The truth is that I’m not a people person, never was. Besides, I like the silence,” John said, pausing as he picked up a small screwdriver. “I used to live further out in the wastes, but I kept getting raided, figured it gave some security to move closer to a settlement.”

“That makes sense,” Kaidan nodded. “So… You don’t have any family?”

John got up from his stool. “You haven’t even bought that drink for me yet, and already with the personal questions.” He laughed mirthlessly, “You know what?” He turned sideways to look down at Kaidan in the dark garage. “You go back into the settlement, have that wound in your forehead looked at, and come back tomorrow with a drink. And then I’ll answer you.”

“It’s just a scratch,”

“It needs stitches,”

“I’m a big boy,” Kaidan laughed softly, not sure if he should be amused or offended.

“Apparently not big enough,” John said with a tired voice, “That wound will get infected, and we are a long way from anywhere, or anyone who has any antibiotics they can spare or are willing to sell.”

“Alright,” Kaidan groused as he put down the wrench on the floor. “Can I leave this here?” He patted the power armor.

“Of course.”

-*-

As Kaidan left John was left in the dark of his garage, Dog was whining and pushing his hand with her snout, “I know. Them showing up here is really bad fucking news.” He idly petted the dog.

Taking off his aviators, he blinked a couple of times to adjust to the light over his workbench. He picked up the EMF and turned it in his hands for a while until he tossed it on the floor and stomped on it, he kept stomping till there was nothing left but tiny pieces.

-*-

Late that afternoon Kaidan came back to the workshop. The dogs barked, but let him pass as he walked through the scrapyard.

“John? You around?”

“Out here!” John called from behind a ruined protectron. “I was just looking for a new fusion cell, or at least one that was less damaged.” He stepped out from behind the scrap and smiled at Kaidan who was now standing on the other side of the metal scrap heap. John pointed at the bandage on Kaidan’s forehead, “You got your head examined, great.” He laughed softly at Kaidan’s expense.

“Very funny.” Kaidan scratched his nose.

“I like to think that I am,” John said pulling another layer of metal off the dead robot, “Funny that is.”

Kaidan was just about to open his mouth to answer, but was interrupted by John victoriously cheering. “Bingo!”

“Find what you needed?” Kaidan asked.

“Absolutely,” John answered. He quickly removed the fusion cell and led the way back to the garage. “I have a confession to make,” he said, “I took a look at your armor, and I think you could upgrade the agility if you added another sensory chip.”

“Hmm, I never thought of that,” Kaidan admitted, following John into the building.

“Of course you didn’t,” John smiled. “I could help you if you want me to.”

“I don’t have the caps,” Kaidan admitted.

“Hey, to be honest, I have nothing better to do,” John said casually. “Business is slow.”

Kaidan laughed.

“So where’s your friend from earlier?” John asked casually wiping his hands off in his coveralls, his back to Kaidan as he walked into the garage.

“Sleeping,” Kaidan stopped beside his power armor, “I don’t know, I think she may be coming down with something. Or, maybe it just exhaustion.” Kaidan offered with a shrug, “We did travel pretty far.”

“Oh?” John turned and looked at Kaidan through his dark aviators, “Where you heading? Surely you didn’t come just to do some sightseeing in Moonbright Palladium.” He smiled a little insecure smile, “It’s nothing like in the brochure.”

Kaidan found himself chuckling at the absurdity of the situation. “Before I say anything about that, you still owe me an answer from earlier.”

John caught on to the game and scratched his cheek, “True. But you owe me a drink.”

“Got it.” Kaidan held out a jar of clear liquid from his pocket, shaking it slightly as if taunting him. “Picked it up on my way here.”

John laughed, “Francine’s moonshine, good call.”

“So?”

“Alright, alright.” John waved Kaidan his way with a boyish smile on his lips, “Come on, let me show you something. And bring the jar.” Dog was whining at him again, following closely at his heel as he walked through the garage, around the corner to the back of the building towards a ladder. “You can’t climb that you idiot.” He said softly to the distressed dog, “I’ll be back in a second.”

Kaidan climbed up the ladder after John, surprised as to what he saw. It was a deck on the roof of the garage, how had he not seen this from the scrapyard?

“Too many years travelling the capital wastelands.” John shrugged as he walked across the roof, and towards a sofa that was facing out over a view of the wastes. John sat down on the dingy looking sofa and gestured for Kaidan to do the same. “I only got one cup.” He picked up a chipped mug from between his feet on the ground, “You want it?”

“No, no I’m good,” Kaidan said hoping he didn’t sound too disgusted, hesitantly settling down into the sofa. Clearly John was not used to visitors, but as he looked out over the panorama at his feet, he had to admit that it was a welcome change of pace to just sit here and take in the views while having a drink with a handsome man. It felt almost decadent.

“Fill it up then,” John said and held out the cup, waiting for Kaidan to pour him some moonshine. And for a while they both just sat and savored their drinks, staring out over the capital wasteland, “Peaceful isn’t it?”

“Sure is,” Kaidan admitted relaxing back into the sofa. He licked his lips, they tasted mostly like antiseptic. “So my question…”

“If I had any family,” John mumbled as he took a sip of his cup. “Short answer is no.”

“What’s the long answer?” Kaidan asked.

John laughed a little bitterly, “The long answer is that I am an orphan, always fending for myself, learning as I go along.”

“Wow, its amazing you survived,” Kaidan said with true awe in his voice, but without taking his eyes off the horizon.

“You can say that again,” John said darkly.

“So what made you settle here?”

Kaidan studied the man beside him in the silence that settled between them. He noted the gnarly scar on in cheek, but felt it would be rude to ask.

“Already told you,” John said, with a shrug. “Got tired of raiders. But I’m also not a great fan of super mutants, so I stayed from the city and larger populated areas.”

“But you’re fine with deathclaws?” Kaidan grinned, “Because you seem to have them in abundance out here.”

“You got a point,” John laughed. His laughter died down and he turned slightly in the sofa, looking at Kaidan through the dark aviators. “So tell me, where are you guys going?”

“Fort Bannister,” Kaidan said. “We heard reports about some old world tech that might be worth the examination.”

“Could be,” John said flatly. Then taking a deep breath, he continued, “It’s full of Talon mercenaries though. You know that right?”

“No.”

“I’m not sure they’re going to roll out the red carpet for you guys,” John said softly. “So whatever you’re looking for better be worth it.”

“It is,” Kaidan said with as much conviction as he could muster. He’d heard that Francine’s moonshine could coax secrets from the dead, and he was beginning to believe that it lived up to its reputation. “If I can get my hands on it, I’d be promoted for sure.” Kaidan smiled at John. “Not that I got anything to prove, I’d just love to see Sarah’s face when I outrank her.”

“Sarah?”

“The woman.”

“Ah, I see.” John held out his cup to have it filled again.

“Why do you say it like that?” Kaidan asked, leaning over and reaching for the jar of moonshine.

“I just thought… well, you know,” John squirmed a little, obviously uncomfortable with the topic. “The capital wasteland gets lonely, that’s all.”

Kaidan laughed loudly, mirth-filled tears forming in the corner of his eyes. “You thought I was banging her?”

“That’s one way to put it,” John chuckled at his own mishap, color flushing his cheeks. “But yeah I thought you were together.”

“No,” Kaidan said taking a sip more, dripping some moonshine on his shirt. “Not in a million years.” He wiped his mouth and chin with the back of his hand. “My turn.”

“Oh, so this is a thing now?” John inquired amused.

“Absolutely,” Kaidan said with a slightly intoxicated grin.

“So let’s see,” he paused, looking over John’s form. “The scar, tell me the story.”

“No.” John’s answer was swift and definitive as he shook his head.

“So, we have rules to our game now?” Kaidan asked, his voice tinged with a drunken slur.

“It’s just…” John turned his head and looked directly at Kaidan, his fingers tapping the mug nervously. “Alright, it’s a gunshot,” he said so softly Kaidan had a hard time hearing it and had to lean in.

“Damn, who shot you?” Kaidan asked, studying the scar closer to the point where John inched away, as Kaidan invaded his private space.

“Does it matter?”

“Suppose not,” Kaidan said with a little tilt of his head, and pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Still, I want to hear the story.”

“Okay, I got shot in my face and in my shoulder, and that’is why I now have a metal rod in my shoulder joint,” John said with a frown, drinking a deep sip of his moonshine.

“Powder gangers?” Kaidan asked leaning forward again to see John’s face closer up.

“Doesn’t matter.” John stated sourly, “I survived, the dogs actually saved my life. But that is another story.”

Kaidan cocked his head and studied John for a moment before speaking.

“Does it hurt? Still, I mean.”

John shook his head, “No, no it doesn’t.” He laughed softly.

Kaidan leaned back in the sofa again and almost dropped the jar of moonshine, “Your turn.”

John bit his lip, “What is it you were sent to Fort Bannister to find? Surely it’s something good since you’re willing to risk your life getting it.”

“Sorry, can’t tell you,” Kaidan said, “the specifics I mean. But what I can tell you is that I have no clue how the hell to find it.” He grinned at his own swearing, feeling light headed. “And now that we sold the EMP to you, I’m even worse off. That thing was supposed to rat it out.” He sighed, “Hopefully. In theory.”

Kaidan turned in his seat staring at John. “Why the sunglasses? I’m sure you have beautiful eyes underneath.”

John laughed a little timid, “I’m afraid I don’t.”

“Aw, really?” Kaidan took a messy sip of the jar.

“I’m born with this eye defect, really not pretty.” John said, his fingers still tapping the mug in the same anxious speed as before. “That’s why.”

“That’s kinda unfair,” Kaidan gave John a drunken smile. “’Cause you’re so handsome, seems only right you should have pretty eyes.”

John made a sound between a snort and a laugh, blushing. “I think you’ve had enough to drink now.”

“I don’t think so,” Kaidan countered, sounding as sober as he possibly could, trying to put on a serious face. “It’s true, I thought so from the moment I saw you.” He reached clumsily up to touch John’s cheek, “You’re blushing.”

“I am not blushing.” John stated childishly, but did nothing to stop Kaidan’s fingers dancing across his scar.

“Come on, you think I’m a little handsome too, otherwise you wouldn’t blush.” Kaidan blurted out, with a slow smile forming across his face.

John was terribly out of his comfort zone. No one had ever shown romantic interest in him before. Yes, it might just be that he had never noticed, but still, it wasn’t like could put too much weight into Kaidan’s words, the man was drunk off his face. “I uhh, I don’t…”

“I want to kiss you,” Kaidan whispered as he slid down the couch a little, unable to hold himself up any longer.

John caught the jar before it smashed into pieces on the gas station’s roof. “Watch out there, Kaidan.”

“Badly.”

“Oh.”

Kaidan giggled, “S’okay, no one can see us.”

John smiled and put the jar away, maneuvering Kaidan to a horizontal position in the sofa. “I think it’s time for you to take a nap, buddy.”

Kaidan whined but let John arrange him on the sofa.

“Can I at least have a little kiss?”

“No,” John said firmly. “Good night, Romeo.”

John stood and watched as Kaidan’s pout slacked and he was clearly asleep. He waged an internal battle with himself and wished that things were different, as he stood there looking down at Kaidan sleeping, there was nothing he wanted more than to just go along with the offer. He felt sorry for Kaidan, but his own survival came first. So he kneeled down at Kaidan’s side and whispered, “What is the old world artifact?”

“Whasa?” Kaidan slurred.

“The artifact,” John persisted. “The one you have to find at Fort Bannister, what is it?”

Kaidan yawned, scratching his cheek idly still asleep. “Organic android.”

John sat back on his haunches, and ran a hand over his head. “Dammit,” he whispered. For the second time in his life he wished that alcohol had at least some effect on him as well.

-*-

He sat beside Kaidan’s sleeping form for hours, like a stone gargoyle watching over its cathedral. While his body didn’t move, his mind was racing, trying desperately to come up with a plan. He took a deep breath as he felt the warm rays of dawn hit his skin and looked up, realizing how much time had passed.

[The first thing he remembered from coming into consciousness was the light, the bright blinding light. He remembered his entire body felt weak and sore and that he was in a wheelchair for some time. He had the hardest time learning how to hold a cup. At the time he had not questioned it, the scientists in white, the smiling nurse, the imprint of his orders. Project Trojan, to infiltrate and strike at the heart of the American war machine. He had believed it, he had become it, he had made them proud. And like any child, all he wanted was to make his parents proud. Anything for their approving nods and smiles, maybe even a soft touch on his shoulder.]

He slowly stood up and went to fetch the blankets that normally resided on his bed and gently wrapped it around Kaidan’s frame. Surely Kaidan wouldn’t take him back to the brotherhood so they could dissect and study him, not after he just said all those lovely things. He liked him, and you don’t destroy things you like.

John frowned, of course Kaidan would, the man was a soldier and he was being a fool. He looked down at sleeping Kaidan and smiled bitterly, funny how a couple of words could change everything.

John left the roof while still deep in thought, he was met by a restless but happy dog at the bottom of the ladder. “Hey, Dog,” he whispered and scratched behind her ear. “What do you say? Maybe it’s just time to move on?” The dog whined, licked his hand.

“You’re right, what am I thinking?” He mumbled, as he absentminded gave the dog a pat and walked into the garage. He just had to keep it going till they left for Fort Bannister, or till it got dark enough that he could pack and slip away like he had so many times before. “He didn’t mean it anyway,” He whispered, more to himself than to the dog as he switched on the lights in the dark garage.

Hours past the morning sunrise, curiosity finally got the better of John, and he carefully studied the power armor. Should he risk hacking it? He ran his fingers over the exposed wires, all he had to do was to pull some where Kaidan would never see them. He had noticed how Kaidan worked on this suit, he really didn’t have a clue as to how it really worked and he only did maintenance. The dogs barked and John figured that Kaidan was awake, so he picked up a random tool and walked back over to his workbench, figuring it would be less conspicuous.

“Mornin’,” Kaidan mumbled and wrapped the blanket tighter around his shoulders. He scratched his mess of tussled hair and glanced at John with sleepy eyes.

“Morning, sunshine.” John chuckled as he placed the tool on his workbench. “Could I interest you in some coffee?”

“You sure could,” Kaidan said softly, pinching the bridge of his nose, trying to combat the upcoming headache. “Wow, that moonshine had some kick to it.”

John laughed, “That it does.” He brushed past Kaidan in the door frame to make his way toward the coffee maker. “Go sit in the garage, I’ll bring you the coffee in a minute.”

John went outside and roamed through his chest of supplies, he knew he had coffee stored here somewhere.

“Uhm, John?” Kaidan asked softly, as he leaned against the door frame for the support and a small sense of security.

“Yes?” John asked as he closed the lid of the chest, holding the can of coffee grinds in his hand. He smiled amused at the disheveled, hungover look on Kaidan’s face.

“Did, uhm…did I say anything bad, or, eh, inappropriate last night?” Kaidan asked, pulling once blue blanket tighter around him. “I remember I asked about your scar and I’m really sorry for that, I shouldn’t have asked. I don’t know what…”

“It’s fine,” he replied with a shrug, moving to pour water in a pot. “Everyone wonders, no one dares to ask.”

“Still.”

“Hey, Kaidan,” John turned around and watched Kaidan, his tone more indifferent than he meant for it to be. “Moonshine makes you do and say the craziest things, don’t worry about it.”

“Okay,” Kaidan whispered miserably. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” John turned his back to Kaidan again to feign being completely detached and neutral about last night. He pretended to be busy with the coffee, even if he just idly shifted stuff around on the small worktable. “Now go sit down before you fall down.”

Kaidan let to go inside the garage, and John watched the pot with water, waiting for it to boil. He was relieved that Kaidan didn’t address all that other nonsense, like saying that he was handsome, and that he wanted to kiss him, that would have made things really weird in the light of day. Surely Kaidan had said it because he was drunk and horny. There wasn’t anything  else to it, it wasn’t like it was for real, it was just the moonshine talking.

The water boiled and John added some coffee and then waited for the coffee to boil a little. It annoyed him that just the thought of kissing Kaidan made his chest act all up. He had done and seen things over his prolonged lifespan that no man could imagine, and yet he had never been kissed. Just the thought of romantic relations made him oddly giddy and uncomfortable in one messed up feeling. And he wondered what Kaidan’s lips would have felt like, and how mad he was at himself for not finding out when he had had the chance.

He heard the dogs bark as he poured the coffee in two cups and walked back into the garage. John had not expected Sarah to be there. Clearly the dogs had barked when she’d arrived. “Good morning, miss. Coffee?” He put the cups down on his workbench.

“Thank you,” Sarah said and took one cup and handed the other to Kaidan. “You boys been having fun?” she asked with a knowing smirk.

“Francine’s moonshine,” Kaidan said with a pitiful wince.

John just shrugged with a little smile.

Sarah smiled back at John before she turned to Kaidan who was sitting on a chair feeling sorry for himself, still wrapped in the blue blanket. “Anyway, nut up Sentinel Alenko, we’re leaving for Fort Bannister today.”

“John said it’s full of Talon company mercenaries,” Kaidan said sipping his coffee in the dim lights of the garage.

“Really?” Sarah looked to John for more information.

“Yes,” John said, casually leaning against his workbench. “I went there on a scavenge run a few months ago and the place was overrun.” He scratched his scarred chin, “I barely escaped with my life.”

“The intel said nothing of Talon company,” Sarah frowned.

“Go look for yourself,” John said and gestured in the general direction of the door.

Sarah sighed, “No matter.” She turned to Kaidan, “Are your repairs done?”

Kaidan nodded.

“We leave at dusk, you stay here and recuperate and I’ll go shop for what we’ll need,” Sarah said and turned to leave. “Have a nice day, John. Thanks for the coffee.” She waved over her shoulder on her way out.

“If this town has a working terminal she is going to check that intel with daddy,” Kaidan sighed.

“Can’t blame her really,” John said still casually. “So you guys even know what it looks like? The old world artifact you’re after?” He idly turned the empty container he had served Sarah’s coffee in.

Kaidan looked up at John with an embarrassed smile, “Oh God, did I ramble about that in my drunken state?”

“Not really, so don’t worry,” John laughed softly at Kaidan’s obvious discomfort.

“Good.” Kaidan let out a breath he had been holding, “Elder Lyons would have my ass if I spilled the beans to the first man with a pretty smile that I saw.” He gave John a quick look, not able to meet his eyes.

John looked down at his feet shyly. “Your honor is intact so don’t worry.”

“Don’t take it that way, I would tell you if I could,” Kaidan said offering a tired, optimistic smile, “I mean, maybe you saw it, right?”

“Maybe?”

Kaidan looked over his shoulder to make sure Sarah was really gone. “So… Maybe I could come back when this mission is over.”

“What for?”

He could tell from the expression on Kaidan’s face that it had been the wrong answer, and the beaten look on the pretty face, made him all hot and cold at the same time. “Ehm, of course you could come by if you wanted,” he added with a nervous little grin. Why was he even playing along? He’d be long gone by then, never seeing Kaidan again.

“Great!” Kaidan’s smile returned to his face. “You sure you won’t mind?”

“I won’t mind the least,” John said. “You’re always welcome.” Somehow the lie made him feel dirty, he wanted to see Kaidan again, he wanted to drown in Kaidan if he could, but he knew that he never would.

-*-

It was late in the afternoon as Kaidan shut the leg panel of the power armor and stood up. “There, it’s as good as it gets.” He looked up and down the armor. “As good as new, almost.”

“You did a great job,” John said as he came to stand next to Kaidan. “So, uhm, here.”

He held a microfusion sniper rifle out for Kaidan to take. “It’s for you.”

Kaidan looked at the rifle and then at John’s face and down at the rifle again. “Are you serious?”

“Of course I’m serious. Take it.”

Kaidan took the rifle from John and turned it in his hands, testing the balance. “It’s perfect.”

“I’m glad you like it,” John beamed, his heart skipping a beat from the praise.

“I love it.”

Kaidan looked intently at John, seeing his reflection in John’s dark aviators. “Guess this is goodbye then.”

“Guess it is,” John said, his smile fading. His hands twitched like he wanted nothing more than to reach out and caress Kaidan’s skin. He was sure it would be soft and warm under his fingers. He could imagine Kaidan leaning into his touch and smiling. What the hell was wrong with him?

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” John said squirming a little under Kaidan’s gaze. He took a deep breath, clearly gathering his thoughts.

“Alright,” he said, after a moment. “I don’t think it’s going to be enough with two of you, even if you have all that firepower.”

Kaidan grinned. “You’re worried?”

“Maybe?” John rolled his shoulders, fidgeting.

“So uhm, I could show you a way in through the side, it’s the entry the scavengers used before it was taken by the Talons.”

“You’d do that?” Kaidan asked surprised.

John nodded, wondering if he had lost his damn mind.

“Why?” Kaidan asked as he took a step closer, close enough to invade John’s private space.

“Because I like you,” John said with a shy smile. “Even if you can’t hold your liquor.”

Kaidan smiled fondly at John, “I like you too.” When John looked oblivious Kaidan reached up to caress John’s cheek, pulling him close. “Are you going to shut me down a second time?”

John shook his head, not sure what to say. This was all new, and for one glorious moment he was sure he’d faint from sensory overload. And when Kaidan kissed him, John got chills down his spine, his entire body was buzzing to this new sensation, a soft hand in a loving touch, soft lips against his, there was no code of conduct for this imprinted in his memory core. This was all something that John Shepard was never supposed to experience, he was built for war, not for gentle touches. He didn’t know that another person could feel so soft, and not only that, that another person felt that he looked soft and loveable as well.

Kaidan pulled him even tighter till they were chest against chest. But all John could think of was how fast his pulse was hammering away in his temples, the alien pressure of Kaidan, warm and eager against his body, and their tongues brushing in a wet caress.

As the kiss ended, John pulled away, breathless and dizzy. Kaidan looked absolutely marvelous with his lips slightly swollen from kissing. “That…” John whispered, “that was something else.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Kaidan said softly.

“Alenko?” Sarah called from the garage’s entryway, surprising John so much that he actually jumped. Why hadn’t the dogs barked at her?

“I’m here,” Kaidan called out, winking at John before he turned and went to the door to talk to Sarah.

John turned around and went to the bathroom, giving them privacy as he locked the door and rested his forehead against it, gaining control over his breathing. So that was what it felt like to be kissed, he thought to himself. He straightened himself up and stared into the mirror, placing his aviators on the counter top staring straight at his own reflection. The bright red eyes, a symptom of being what he was, stared back at him. John could see the microscopic cybernetics spin as he shifted focus. What was he thinking? How had he backed himself into this? It was madness, he should be thinking about escape, not about kissing Kaidan. It did not matter how good his lips had felt pressed against his, this was a very dangerous gamble.

“Shit.” John whispered trying to collect himself. He was going to help them get into Fort Bannister, but then he’d slip away. He could always call the dogs; they would follow his activation chip anyway. That just had to be good enough. Somewhere deep inside, John knew he would do anything just so Kaidan would look at him like he had moments ago.

Kaidan had climbed into his power armor and smiled at John as he came back into the garage. “Ready?”

“I just need a gun and a laser cutter,” John said casually, ignoring Sarah’s obnoxiously knowing smile. He went to get the things he needed, the dogs were looking at him and he just shrugged at them, “I’m sorry ladies, plan is changed.” He smiled at the dogs, “Come on then.”

Sarah and Kaidan were waiting outside and John joined them, flanked by his dogs. “The weak spot is to the west of the fort, so we have to come in from the side if we want to fly under their radar.”

“Sounds good,” Sarah said. “Lead the way.”

John started walking, opting for a large detour to make sure they would not be seen from the fort. It made a giddy rush course down his spine to be walking through the capital wasteland again, he had walked it for many years, but the thrill of it never stopped making him feel happy and free.

“Sentinels?” He asked over his shoulder. “Can I ask what you’ll do if you don’t find your artifact, I mean there is no guarantee it’s in there. The Talons could have dismantled it or sold it.”

“If we don’t find it, we’ll just have to look elsewhere, we know it’s around here somewhere. The fort was just the last place that we know it was seen for sure,” Sarah said, her voice muffled from the helmet.

“He has a point, Sarah,” Kaidan said. “The intel we have is like a decade old.”

Sarah ignored his statement and continued speaking. “So what does a girl have to do around here to get a modified sniper like that?”

John felt his ears flush and heard Sarah’s amused laugh.

-*-

It was still dark when they reached the hill where John had found the best vantage point. The three of them lay on their fronts in the dirt and looked down over Fort Bannister.

“Down there,” John whispered. “Right under that sniper tower there is a loose metal plate. At least, I’m pretty sure it’s still loose; but I bought the cutter just in case.” He pointed at the far right sniper tower.

“Alright, so that sniper up there,” Sarah turned to Kaidan, who looked at the sniper though his scope. “Take him out.”

“Wait,” John hissed, holding up his hand to stop the Sentinel from firing.

“Ok,” Kaidan said, glancing over at him for a moment before returning to look through the scope.

John settled closer to Kaidan. “So, we don’t want him to fall down into the camp where the Talons might notice, riling them up. If we can lure him to over to the side it should make things easier.” He took a deep breath, “Dogs, go!” And with that the dogs slowly trotted down the hill and stopped at the sniper tower. They started barking which got the attention of the sniper in the tower.

“Now Kaidan, fire!”

Kaidan pulled the trigger and they watched as the sniper fell down to the ground right in front of the dogs who sniffed the corpse idly and trotted back to the hill.

“Impressive,” Sara said, her voice was not amused but suspicious. “That must have taken long to train them to do that.”

“Forget it, Sarah, it worked, so who cares?” Kaidan grumbled as he got to his feet.

“I never said I came by all my scavenging the honest way,” John said with a shrug, doing his best to suppress a nervous stutter. “It’s a dog eat dog world out here.” They made it to the fence and to John’s relief the metal plate was still lose. “Squeeze through here and you’ll have the element of surprise.”

“What are you gonna do?” Kaidan asked as he put on his helmet again.

“Find some cover and stay here till the shooting stops?” John grinned, but he didn’t look amused.

“Be safe okay?”

“I will.”

Kaidan and Sarah went through the makeshift entry, disappearing into the darkness, and John crouched behind some bushes and waited in the night with his dogs. When the first shot rang out he flinched, it sounded like an explosion in the silence of the wasteland night. And then a second shot, yelling and screaming. He ran his hand across his chin nervously. He was tempted to follow them inside, but reminded himself that these were trained Brotherhood sentinels, surely they could handle a gunfight.

He heard something that sounded suspiciously like Sarah screaming Kaidan’s name. John threw caution to the wind and climbed through the grate. With one hand on his gun and the other clutching his knife he slowly inched inside the camp, his dogs silently following behind him.

For a moment he stood in the shadows and watched as a man circled Kaidan and Sarah ahead of him. They were being held down by several men, Sarah lying prone on the concrete floor. Kaidan’s power armor standing helplessly against the far wall. The Talons had managed to pull him from his suit.

John couldn’t hear what was being said, but Kaidan shook his head, his helmet off to the side, and the man shot him straight through the shoulder. John heard Kaidan scream and closed his eyes, unwilling to watch this man being tortured.

The man who’d shot Kaidan, moved to stand over Sarah, yelling questions at her, “What treasure are you looking for?”

“What are you talking about?” Sarah screamed back.

“Have it your way,” the man sneered, turning to take aim at Kaidan again.

John rolled his shoulders, preparing for battle. “Come on, girls,” he whispered to the dogs, moving forward. John shouted as he stepped out from behind the tent and into the light, “Shoot him and you’re dead.”

The leader’s head snapped over to John and then laughed. “And just who the hell are you?”

“Let them go.”

“Kill him,” the man ordered. The other members of the Talons that milled about came forward and moved toward John.

John’s blood was singing as adrenaline pumped through his system, this was what he was made for, this was his purpose. He had forgotten how good it felt. It felt almost like the kiss he’s shared with Kaidan, only ten thousand times as powerful.

He hardly felt the bullets that bit into his form as the Talon’s emptied their guns in his direction. John just kept dancing through the dead men, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he twisted and turned, doing his best to avoid getting shot too many times.

He could hear the dogs rip and tear into flesh as they attacked, screams of the dying filled the air, and his own pulse hammered away in his head. When his cartridge was spent, he tossed the gun to the ground and kept walking towards the Talon leader and the few of his men still standing.

The mercenaries that remained let go of their hostages and fled into the darkness, leaving their leader to John’s mercy. John scooped up a discarded gun from the ground and chambered a round as he advanced towards the threesome.

“Hold him there, John!” Sarah yelled.

John took a step forward and pointed his gun at the leader’s forehead, his brow lowered in a grimace that he hoped proved to the leader his intention.

“Kaidan?”

“I’m fine.”

Sarah walked up to the Talon leader and placed her gun at the back of his head.

“You said more Sentinels had been here, where are they?”

“There’s one in that tent.” The Talon leader said.

Kaidan picked himself up off the ground and walked unsteadily to the tent, pulling the flap aside revealing a Sentinel tied to a post in the center.

John could hear soft voices coming from inside but didn’t turn around till Kaidan emerged with the Sentinel on his arm.

“Sentinel Jensen,” the man announced and saluted the others weakly.

“Where is the rest of your squad, Sentinel Jensen?” Sarah asked.

Jensen just shook his head. “I’m all that’s left.”

“You filthy animal!” Sarah pushed the gun harder into the Talon leader’s skull.

Kaidan took the EMP that still hung from Jensen’s side.

“Funny, they didn’t take this,” he mumbled, and tossed it to Sarah. He turned and looked at John, who was bleeding from several gunshot wounds.

“You’re hit!” Kaidan gasped, rushing to John’s side, “Why didn’t you say something?”

“Please don’t,” John whispered, his eyes on the EMP. He closed his eyes knowing that the worried tone in Kaidan’s voice would be traded in for disgust, his easy smiles for sneers, and his soft touch for hard punches. It was all over, but he knew that when he came here, didn’t he? He had known this was a bad fucking idea. When it all came down to it, he was glad it was Kaidan, maybe the sentinel would get that promotion and it wouldn’t all be for nothing.

Sarah hit the button of the EMP device and stepped back, fully expected the Talon leader to be afflicted by it.

The pain shot up through John’s body like unbearable jolts of electricity, his body twisted to the point where he heard something snap. He could hear his own unearthly scream. His face felt like it was on fire and his knees buckled underneath him. He could taste blood in his mouth, and all he heard now was a weird crackle and an insistent beep. He felt his face hit the ground, and for a moment he thought his heart would literally break in two.

-*-

When John eventually woke he ached all over. Though he managed to open his eyes, John couldn’t see anything when he tried to look around. Either he had gone blind from the power surge or he was blindfolded, he couldn’t be sure of which. He tasted blood and bile in his mouth, running his tongue over his teeth John was surprised that they were still intact.

He could hear Kaidan and Sarah, somewhere close by, talking about how long it would take to get somewhere safe. A third voice interrupted and John figured it was Jensen. He couldn’t feel the dogs presence nearby, so he figured they had been left behind. Though he was sad that they’d been abandoned, John wasn’t terribly concerned because he knew that they would find him eventually.

“So Arefu is the best bet,” Jensen said. “If nothing else, they have someone medically trained, and maybe a courier.”

“I agree,” Sarah’s feminine voice chimed in. “How long do you think the power surge will effect it?”

“I don’t know,” Jensen admitted. “Hours? Days? This is a first for the Brotherhood.”

John felt something poke him, he figured it was a muzzle of a rifle, but he didn’t react.

“We need to camp for the night,” Jensen said. “Might as well just leave it in the wagon.”

John lay still and listened to the others mill around as they set up a makeshift camp.

So this was how it was going to end, he thought. Blindfolded with dried piss on his pants. Not exactly how he had imagined it. He closed his eyes allowing himself to doze off a little, he could hear Kaidan’s voice in the distance, and he smiled to himself because in his mind’s eye, it was to John that Kaidan was talking to, and John’s jokes that Kaidan laughed at, and he was the reason Kaidan smiled.

Someone kicked the wagon and John woke with a start.

“Oh, it’s awake now,” Sarah stated.

“Just leave it,” Jensen said.

Sarah sounded indecisive, and finally turned back towards John. “Does your system require sustenance?”

John could have laughed if he didn’t felt like crying. Maybe this was what madness was like? He knew some synths went completely off the radar, faulty wiring, past expiration date or something. He just shook his head.

Sarah left and John could hear the footsteps in the dirt. Maybe he should try and get a hand out these handcuffs, or maybe it would work if he popped his shoulder out of the socket.

Due to his synthetic nature, he did have a kill switch. It was originally programmed to use if he was caught, when his mission was over, or if he was helplessly incapacitated. He knew it was in his left arm, so all he had to do was to lift his arm up and hit the switch, pull the cord, whatever hid in there – he didn’t know. But did he really want to? His mission parameters were long lost, and if he used his kill switch it would be by choice, it would be because he had lost all hope.

-*-

[His mouth was dry; his body was sore. Using every ounce of strength, he had he rolled over on his back, only to find his feet were stuck. With great effort he lifted himself on to his elbow to see what his feet were caught in. He was shocked to find that his legs were tangled in long dead corpses wrapped in what looked to be hospital bedlinen, gurneys and tubes. Most of the fabric on the back of his legs had melted into his flesh, and the exposed flesh was nothing but open sores, some festering.

“God,” he whispered in shock as he laid down again. He had failed, he had missed his target. He heard some strange crackling but couldn’t figure out where it came from. He closed his eyes, remembering the scientists showing him his orders on a movie reel, he could not move, he had no other option but to watch it over and over.

No, not his orders, but his reason for existing. And he knew that if he failed his mission, he had no reason to exist any longer. But wasn’t there supposed to be a command? The video had said that if he was terminated he would feel it, and John felt nothing. He couldn’t lay around here, he had to get on his feet and continue his mission, this was apparently just a minor setback. He could fix it, he could find the Admiral, and he would kill him by any means necessary. Protocol dictated that…. John sat up with a whimper, his back felt sore and raw like the back of his legs.

Suddenly he realized that there was no sound. He twisted around a little. “Hello?” He called, but his voice just echoed off the hospital walls. He reached for a fork that was on the floor and tossed it into the air, he heard the clang echo through the room as it crashed onto the floor again. At least he wasn’t deaf.

On the tenth day of being hopelessly stuck under the gurney and decaying bodies. He heard something that sounded like soft paws on linoleum. He opened his eyes and looked straight up into a pair of steel blue dog eyes, and received a dog kiss for his effort. John smiled and raised a weak arm full of deep cuts and bites to the dog. At least he wouldn’t die alone.]

-*-

“Get up!” John was shaken awake by rough hands. “You’ll be walking.” And then he was guided out of the cart, and to his feet by Jensen with a grip on his arm harder than steel.

John stumbled over a rock as he struggled to catch up with the movements of the group. A few moments later he was walking over what felt and sounded like wooden boards. He could hear Sarah in the front talking to someone, but he couldn’t hear what was said.

Next thing he knew he was being hauled over the boards, someone’s arms wrapped around his torso, dragging him along the floor. He turned his head hoping to pick up sounds that would help to let him know where he was. People whispering, it was a settlement. Had they made it to Arefu? He heard a door open and felt the hard push in his back that made him tumble blindly into the room, and the door was locked behind him.

His stomach rumbled and John sighed resigned. He just laid down where he had landed and closed his eyes. He liked his dreamland better, actually, he preferred it by far. And even if he knew that he could hardly call the kiss that Kaidan had given him a romance, it had inspired things he had never thought of in his dreams before now, an odd bittersweet longing. He knew he was being an idiot, but he just couldn’t see a reason to not just indulge, his dreams weren’t hurting anyone. He was going to do something later, slip out the back and disappear into the night like so many times before.

John had no idea how much time had passed, he woke up in darkness and forced himself to sleep again. He hardly reacted when he heard the door opening sometime later.

“You awake?”

The familiar voice was like music to his ears. “Yes,” John whispered.

“Is there anything you need?” Kaidan asked, forcing himself to remain still when John struggled to sit up.

“Water,” John said softly. “Please.”

Kaidan turned and shouted to some unknown person far beyond the doorway, “Can I have some water for the prisoner?” Moments later John felt Kaidan sitting down beside him. “Why are you still wearing this?” Kaidan gently peeled the blindfold off, John kept his eyes shut because he didn’t want to see the look on Kaidan’s face when he saw the cybernetics. “Look at me,” Kaidan said softly.

And slowly John opened his eyes, looking straight up into Kaidan’s deep brown eyes. He saw shock, disgust and something hard, like anger or betrayal. But John could not see the hate he had expected. “Eye defect, huh?” Kaidan whispered.

John said nothing but looked away from Kaidan as he nodded.

“Here.” Kaidan held the cup of water up and waited for John to take it, realizing that his hands were cuffed behind his back, so Kaidan experimentally held the cup to John’s lips, he held it awkwardly, allowing John to drink in greedy gulps.

“Where are my dogs?” John asked with a fleetingly low voice, licking the last remainders of water off his lips.

“Don’t know,” Kaidan said, “Most likely, still at Fort Bannister.”

John nodded. Inwardly just happy that the Sentinels had not realized that the dogs were like him, and not ordinary dogs.

“Do you want something to eat? Need something for the pain?” Kaidan asked, studying John without his aviators for the first time, trying to maintain eye contact with the ruby red irises.

“No,” John said, and once more looked away from Kaidan.

“Come on, I saw there was food at the garage, I know you eat. And  with your gunshot wounds I know you must be in pain. Why are you acting like this? What the hell are you trying to accomplish?” Kaidan said, he meant to sound hard, but only came off as worried.

“I’m tired of it Kaidan,” John replied honestly.

“Tired of what?” Kaidan asked, sitting all the way down on the floor, waiting for John to answer.

“Survival.”

For the longest time they just sat there in the dark. No one said a word, no one knew what to say.

“Thank you,” Kaidan said softly. “Thank you for saving us, me. I mean with all that happened, I haven’t had the chance to say that.”

John smiled a little bloodless smile, “You’re welcome.” He rolled his shoulders, his hands in shackles, flexing his fingers. “I’m glad I was there,” he said, feeling his chest contract from the giant hole of emptiness he felt inside.

“Okay,” Kaidan said, wringing his hands, “If I had known what you are,” he paused, “then I don’t think that I…”

“I know,” John nodded slowly, he raised his gaze to look directly at Kaidan, he wanted so badly to see a smile, but all he saw was stoic seriousness. “If I hadn’t turned out to be your precious ancient artifact, would you have returned to Moonbright Palladium like you said you would?”

“Yeah,” Kaidan said softly. “I probably would have.”

Kaidan bit his lip, looking over his shoulder as he heard some of the Arefu inhabitants walking past outside.

“Alright look, you can ask me anything you want to know, and I’ll answer only if you eat.”

John frowned, he recognized their game, but he didn’t want to play anymore. “No,” he said softly.

Kaidan sighed, “We’re not going to kill you, if that is what you think.”

John huffed bitterly, “No, you are just going to decommission me.”

“Is that so bad?” Kaidan asked truthfully. “It’s mostly like sleeping.”

John frowned, “Why are you here Kaidan?”

“I wanted to make sure you are okay,” Kaidan rose to his feet, “And because we have a long trek to headquarters, and because you have not eaten.” He paused, looking John’s silent form over, then shrugged, “Have it your way.”

John watched as Kaidan left and closed the door. He sighed and for a second just leaned against a shelf behind him, he liked this particular fantasy where Kaidan came back to the gas station and never left. John sneered in the darkness, it was a pretty fantasy but never to be. He knew it was nothing but a daydream. Kaidan was disgusted, he could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. He couldn’t wait till they reached headquarters and John was no longer his responsibility. Maybe he’d come by and look at him through the glass while he slept for eternity, and maybe he too would wish it hadn’t been so. Duty above all else, right?

John waited until the sounds outside had died down and began to work himself free. Squatting down, he forced his bound hands down past his ass and let himself fall on his backside. The shackles were too tight and his legs too long to allow him to feed his feet over his wrists, so he took a deep breath before he proceeded. Using his old injury, he forced his shoulder to pop out of its socket in order for him to have enough body length to slide his arms in front. Once both legs were through, he had to pop the joint back in place. John stood up and rammed himself against the wall, shoulder forward, to pop it back into place. He was still bound, but at least now his arms were in front of him.

Scrounging around the small shack, he found a couple small bits of wire that would serve as lock picks if he was careful. Sitting quietly on the floor, he tried to put out of his mind how little time he might have before someone decided to check in on him. It took longer than he hoped, but once he was free, he could roll his shoulders round enough to make sure his shoulder was truly back in place.

He knew the layout of Arefu, and knew that all doors were towards the center of the bridge, and at the back of the house there would be a 70 feet drop into nothing. Even as enhanced as he was, John knew he’d never survive that, which left him with one option, the door, the bridge and people. There was no getting off this bridge without being seen. John looked around for a weapon and found nothing but a broken handle for something like a crank, it would just have to do.

With a small prayer on his lips that he’d get away, and wouldn’t have to hurt Kaidan, he kicked the door so it fell off its hinges and flew into the middle of the bridge. He stepped out to see the Arefu inhabitants shutting their doors and hiding, but he heard running steps behind him, and he saw something move in front of him further down the bridge. There was someone between him and freedom.

“Stop him!” Sarah yelled from behind John.

John dodged a pile of crap on the path put there as a roadblock. Jensen stepped out to his left and without thinking John grabbed the man, and wrestled the laser gun off him. “Stop!” John yelled, hearing the footsteps coming to a grinding halt. He aimed the gun at Jensen and looked over at Sarah and Kaidan standing in the dark before him. He could make a mad dash to the wasteland but they’d no doubt follow, and he had no intention of being on the run until they gave up.

“Let me go, and he will live,” he said, blinking as confusing text flashed before his eyes.

“We can’t do that” Sarah said as she took a slow step towards John, her gun raised.

“Kaidan, talk some sense into your friend,” John yelled, grinding the gun into Jensen’s scalp.

Kaidan looked from John to Sarah, and back at John. “John, don’t do this.”

“A moment ago I was a machine, and here you are trying to reason with me as a man,” he smiled bitterly, scorned. “Oh, the irony.”

“We are going to hunt you down no matter what you chose to do,” Sarah said, “Kill him if you must, but I will bring you back with me.”

John tightened his grip around Jensen’s throat, and aimed his gun at Sarah, “Maybe I should shoot you instead.”

Kaidan tossed his gun on the ground and slowly walked towards John, red irises following his every move in the dark.

“Stay back,” John growled. “I like you Kaidan, but even that won’t save you if you don’t stop.”

Kaidan stopped.

“Maybe I ought to aim my gun at him, not at you.” Sarah yelled in the far back, and with a fluid move changed her aim to Kaidan’s back.

John’s pulse hammered in his neck, and he almost forgot to breathe. She wouldn’t, would she?

“Bullshit,” he hissed.

“Try me. Honestly you’re doing me a favor.”

“I just want to leave,” John said again. “No one has to die.”

Kaidan turned halfway sideways and looked at Sarah over his shoulder, “Sarah?”

“Let him go and surrender, or your new boyfriend gets it,” Sarah yelled, her eyes fixed on John in the darkness.

John looked from Sarah to Kaidan, he was suddenly in no doubt that she’d do it. Maybe she was right, and she actually wanted Kaidan out of the way, she had just been waiting for an opportunity. Every fiber in his body ached to pull the trigger and snuff out Jensen for all eternity, but at the same time he wanted to protect Kaidan. It was a crazy new urge, but he didn’t have time to dwell on it.

The way he saw it, he had two options, he could shoot Jensen, and maybe he could get a shot in on Sarah before she shot Kaidan, and maybe not. Or, he could shoot Kaidan first so she would lose her bargaining chip. He shifted aim of his gun from Sarah to Kaidan without letting up on his grip on Jensen.

“Do you really think I care?” he asked wishing desperately his voice wouldn’t give his bluff away.

“You’re bluffing.”

But before John could answer or even react, Sarah fired her gun and Kaidan fell to the ground with a pained yelp. John swiftly aimed at Sarah but she managed to dodge and hide behind a shack. “No!” John bellowed angrily, before he turned the gun to the now flailing Jensen in his grasp. Jensen had scratched John’s arm till it was slippery with blood, but to no avail. John’s face turned into a sneer as he pulled the trigger and chunks of Jensen mingled with his own blood on his arm. He let go of the limp body and stepped over it, he knew he should run, but he had to check on Kaidan, had to make sure if he was dead or alive. He was painfully aware that Sarah was here in the dark as well. “So what is this? Take out your competition and claim the prize for yourself?” John yelled out in the dark.

Sarah said nothing, nor did she move and John could not see her. Damn his failing optics. He knelt down next to Kaidan and saw that he was still breathing, but he was bleeding and barely conscious. John knew it was most likely a trap, Sarah counted on him checking on Kaidan. Just as this thought emerged in his mind, he felt the cold steel of a gun against the back of his head. “For a war machine you sure are dumb.”

“My coding got fried,” John stated matter-of-factly.

“Who cares,” Sarah said. “Get up.” She pushed upwards with the gun against John’s scalp.

“What about Kaidan?” John asked as he slowly stood, “Are you just going to leave him here?”

“I am,” Sarah said coldly, “Look at the bright side, he’s bleeding out pretty fast.”

John said nothing he just flexed his fingers, wondering if she still had the damn EMP because if she didn’t he would have no problem taking her down. He wasn’t sure his optical circuits could take another blast, broken text flickered in the corner of his eyes as it was.

“Alright pretty boy, it’s time to go,” Sarah said.

“And if I say no?” John asked softly, taking a massive gamble.

“Then I’d have to,” Sarah trailed off and there was a rustle behind him. “Taze you again.”

The pause was all John needed, and he swiftly turned around and grabbed the gun, slamming his forehead into hers with all his might. He could hear cartilage break but wasn’t sure if it was hers or his. For a confusing second his vision was blaring white, and when he blinked he saw Sarah laying at his feet, but he also felt a red hot pain travel from his nose to his brain. He ignored it and turned to check on Kaidan. He was still breathing. John looked over his shoulder at unconscious Sarah, he grabbed the gun and contemplated shooting her, but that would be too good for her, so he just shot out her left kneecap with a little smile.

“Fucking bitch,” he mumbled and then looked back at Kaidan. There was no way the people at Arefu would help him now, and the only place he could think of with an actual doctor that would help was a pretty trek away. Maybe Sarah was right, that it was merciful that he’d bleed out pretty fast.

He sidestepped a little, torn between this new feeling he couldn’t quite pinpoint, and the urge to flee out into the night. John bit his lip, the least he could do was take the poor man to Paradise Falls, he could barter some or other to have the doctor save Kaidan. The voice in his head whispered it was stupid, that Kaidan was not only afraid of him but would most likely stab him in the back. Another voice said that it didn’t matter, all he wanted was to make sure that sweet, soft, Kaidan was safe.

“Come on let’s go,” he muttered as he picked up Kaidan and flung him over his shoulder. He could always just leave when he saw Kaidan was better.

-*-

By the time John made it to Paradise Falls the dogs had found him, they had suddenly appeared in a distance, homing in on John’s signal. They had wagged their tails, barked happily that they found him, and John had been happier than he could express seeing the girls again. They obediently joined him as he silently walked as fast as he could while carrying Kaidan.

-*-

When Kaidan woke he heard hushed voices talking and a distinct whine of an animal, and then a bark, he opened his eyes slightly, seeing the once white tiles on the wall. Pain shot up in his side and Kaidan grit his teeth to not scream, he tried to will his arm to where the pain originated, but his arms were heavy as lead and his moves sluggish so he gave up with a frustrated whine.

John turned to hush on the dog but when he saw Kaidan struggle to sit he dropped his cup on the floor it shattered with a muffled bang, as he rushed to Kaidan’s side. He placed a firm but warm hand on Kaidan’s chest pushing him back into the bed. “Relax, you’re safe.” John turned his head, “Cutter! What’s taking so long?”

Kaidan stared wide eyed on John, confused by his smile and the strong antiseptic smell in the room. “Where am I?”

“Safe,” John said hushed, worry written across his face, his hand still firm on Kaidan’s chest. “That is all you need to know for now.”

“She… she actually…” Kaidan’s face twisted into a grotesque mask of pain and confusion. Kaidan started to breathe faster as the pain in his side intensified.

“I know,” John said empathic, taking his hand off Kaidan’s chest. The dog pushed Kaidan’s other hand with its nose, much like it had when it had found John under the rubble back then. “Cutter goddammit!” John yelled, his voice raising an octave.

Cutter finally came rushing in with a syringe. “I got something to relax you a little,” he said with a little out of breath, but with a friendly smile.

“But…”

“Just do it,” John said nodding at Cutter while he took Kaidan’s hand tight between his own. “Trust me,” John whispered as Kaidan drifted off. For a while he sat and stared at Kaidan, trust was about the last thing that was between them, but he didn’t know what else to say. He desperately wished that Kaidan would trust him, even if he knew that he most likely never would.

“He’ll be out for hours, Tin-man. Why don’t you go have a drink or something,” Cutter said with an annoyed wave of his hand still holding the syringe, “Get the hell out of here, it drives me nuts that you hover in here like his mother.”

Though the words were harsh, John could hear concern in the other man’s voice.

John let go of Kaidan’s hand and stood up. And with one quick glance at Kaidan he left Cutter’s clinic. He walked past the slavers pen and sat down at the bar, pouring himself a large drink. He didn’t even need to look when he heard a sing song voice walking up behind him.

“Fancy seeing you back here.”

“Red,” John sighed, putting the glass down before he turned halfway on his chair to face her. Carolina Red, the craziest bitch he ever met and honestly never wanted to meet. But if you got on her good side, she wasn’t all that bad.

“Tin-man.”

“Too busy kicking the merchandise around to have a drink with me?” John asked.

Red was better company than being alone, and he really didn’t need that vulnerability with all those slaves just staring at him from the pens behind him. At least he wasn’t responsible for any of those poor souls being trapped here.

“Nah.”

Red sat down and poured herself a drink.

“So what brings you back here? I didn’t think we’d see you again.”

“Didn’t plan on it,” John said. “I needed medical attention for a friend, and this place was closest. Had to strike a deal with Eulogy to get it.”

“Damn,” Red mumbled into her cup. “I didn’t think people like you had friends.”

“I know,” John said with a frown. And I don’t, he thought bitterly.

“Tin-man,” Red said, sounding almost motherly. “If you struck a deal with Eulogy, you definitely care.”

John laughed mirthlessly, “I don’t know. maybe… Yeah, I think I do.” He blushed lightly in the tacky colored lights, “I know I don’t want him to die.”

“Word travels fast here,” Red said narrowing her eyes suspiciously, “Is he your fuck buddy?”

John laughed again, a little too loud and a little too forced, and shook his head, “Not by a long shot.”

“Liar,” Red said with a shake of her head. “The Tin-man I know would never risk whatever lousy fucking deal you got with Eulogy, for a Sentinel.”

John nodded in silence and took a long sip of his drink, damn her and this place. “You’re right, I wouldn’t.”

Red said nothing, she just waited for the story she was sure was there, sipping her drink.

“I don’t know what to tell you, he knows what I am, and I know that he would drag me off to the capital, or worse, hand me over to the outcasts for a bounty if he could. But still, it’s important to me that he is safe. I don’t really understand it myself.”

Red laughed, a rough amused laugh.

“Sounds like true looooove,” she said batting her eyelashes, mocking John with a grin on her lips.

“Really?” John asked in an unguarded moment.

Red cut her eyes at him, disbelieving. “I know you’re wires and circuits but you can’t be that big of a fucking idiot.”

Sipping his drink, John let out a long tired exhale, his ears warm with humiliation. He wished he had just kept his mouth shut from the beginning. Now he’d never hear the end of it, gossip travelled faster here than faster than deathclaws through Old Olney.

He looked up at Red with a little timid smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, “It is pretty fucking stupid isn’t it?”

“Want me to take care of it?” Red asked bluntly.

“I didn’t carry him here from Arefu for you to make yourself a new skinsuit or whatever the hell it is you do.” John said staring at Red in the blinking tacky lights, “But, thank you for offering.”

“Pity.” Red said with a shrug.

-*-

When John woke up, it was morning, the smell of piss hit him like a hammer and with a start he remembered exactly where he was. He sat up in his chair with a groan, he hated this place, he hated everything about it. He understood Red’s surprise at his return, he didn’t quite understand it either. Slowly he got to his feet and made his way to Cutter’s clinic. He peeked inside and saw Kaidan in a half sitting position while Cutter was nowhere in sight.

“Hey,” John said with a weak smile. “Feeling better?”

“Paradise Falls?” Kaidan noted with a sneer, “What are you? A monster?”

John’s smile faltered, he would have kept it a secret for as long as he could, but Cutter probably told Kaidan just to spite him, the fucker.

“You know what I am,” John said as he braved the room and gingerly sat down on a chair  that was close, but not too close to Kaidan’s bed.

“I’m beginning to think that Sarah was right,” Kaidan said while refusing to look at John. “To think that I actually thought you might have something that resembled human emotions.”

John looked down at his feet.

“I was trying to save you,” he said with a tiny voice.

“Selling me to slavers is your idea of saving me?” Kaidan asked, his voice thick with anger.

John looked up at the man in the bed, he looked tired and frail. John’s red irises discretely checked the large burned area on Kaidan’s right side from the plasma gun. “I didn’t sell you,” he said, “You are free to leave whenever you wish.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that,” John echoed. “You can even have my gun.”

The silence spread over the better side of fifteen minutes before Kaidan whispered, “But why?”

John smiled to himself.

“I don’t know. I guess I like you.”

“You aren’t able like anyone,” Kaidan said in a clipped tone, “You’re like an advanced Mr. Handy with a pulse.”

John felt a knot forming in his chest hearing those words. It was the sort of thing he expected Kaiden to say, but actually hearing it was far more difficult than he expected. He struggled for several minutes trying to formulate what he should say, and still his thoughts stumbled out in a a random mess, “Yes, I was bred in a facility, I have never been a child, never felt a mother’s embrace, and I…” he paused and looked up at Kaidan briefly. How could he ever explain that kindness and tenderness were not something he was used to, not something he knew how to return. “I didn’t know how soft and warm a kiss felt, because no one ever showed me.”

Kaidan said nothing, and let the uncomfortable silence stretch out till John slowly stood from the chair, his eyes downcast and sad. “I’ll be back and check on you later.” John turned and walked towards the exit. He had been a fool to hope Kaidan would react any differently.

“Wait,” Kaidan called, and John stopped in his tracks and turned halfway towards the hospital bed. “Are you telling me you’ve been around for more than 160 years and no one ever kissed you?” He didn’t know why he asked that, but somehow it made him feel weird that he had been the first to do that.

John looked directly at Kaidan with and with a slight shake of his head, giving his answer without speaking. “Come on dogs.” He clapped his thigh and the dogs slowly trotted to him. “Let me know if there’s anything you need, okay?” John said directed at Kaidan.

“Sure.”

“Great.” John muttered and left the clinic, shoulders slumped.

-*-

[He stood on top of the remains of a bridge, he stared into the green and brown swirling water underneath him, it looked like primordial radioactive soup. The dogs were whining and one of them licked his hand. He took a deep breath and looked up into the sky, it was bright and blue and he could feel the chill on his breath.

He didn’t know where to go, what to ask for, how to live. He didn’t know if he wanted to exist at all. He was just so confused, his protocol was silent, he didn’t know why – had they won the war? Was he the last person alive on earth? He had not seen anything living besides himself and his dogs for weeks. His broken limbs had almost healed, he flexed his hands in the cold air, and took a step closer to the edge of the bridge. How he wished that he would get an order of some sorts, he was beyond caring from who, just something, anything. He had no idea how to do this, if he was even supposed to do this. A dog tugged in his sleeve, trying to pull him from the edge.

“But where would I go?”

He spoke out into the air, he didn’t know if he asked himself or the dogs or if he had truly lost his mind. The dog pulled his sleeve again and he gave in, sitting down on the ground beside the animals. Both dogs wagged their tails, whined happily, and licked his face. It made him laugh, it made him feel less alone and lost. He pulled a photo from his pocket, he looked somewhere between confused and proud, like a child on their first day of school. He had never been sure of anything had he? He had obeyed orders, but he had never understood why – never questioned it. And here he was, no orders, no people, no nothing.

He looked out over the ruined city, maybe he could learn how to make it his? Maybe with the world gone there was a place for someone like him?]

-*-

Two weeks later Kaidan was feeling well enough to hobble outside into the sun. John was there to help him to a chair, even bringing him food and drink whenever he asked. Kaidan wondered why John stuck around, he had not left his side once since bringing him here, catering to his every need.

John sat down next to Kaidan as he looked out at the view afforded to him by Cutter. He closed his eyes and soaked up the sun and calm. The cages had been emptied not so long ago, and even if they’d slowly fill again, for now, the few people kept in them did not scream and yell. The peaceful settlement, along with the  slow tune playing on the radio, it seemed almost normal, all things taken into consideration.

“How are you feeling?” John asked. He had tried to sound casual, but failed miserably as his entire body was wound tighter than a bowstring.

“I’m good,” Kaidan said, still looking around nervously, taking everything in, wondering how John could seem so ignorant of this cesspool of depravity.

“Have you… have you thought about where you might go?” John asked, his voice sad and slightly choked. “You can’t go back.”

Kaidan took a deep breath, he had thought about it and couldn’t get comfortable with anything he had come up with. “I don’t know,” He replied.

“I can have someone take you near Fort Independence, and from there you’d be able to find the Outcasts,” John said with a little stiff bloodless smile. “There is a caravan going that way in a week’s time, but we’d have to sell your gun, they won’t take you in just because of your pretty smile.”

“I don’t know,” Kaidan said, his eyes falling on John in the sun. He wanted to hate him, he tried to remind himself he was the enemy in more than one way, but it was hard to look past what seemed to Kaidan as genuine concern. “I’m not sure the Outcasts would…“

“Of course they’d love to have you, and it’s what you are, right?” John asked hesitantly, not sure if he’d overstepped some invisible boundary. He looked away from Kaidan and stared straight up into the sky instead, it was a pretty day at least, not a cloud in the sky.

“I suppose,” Kaidan mumbled, he had not given it thought at all.

“You don’t have to make up your mind now,” John said as he adjusted his seat in his chair. “But eventually…”

“Eventually what?” Kaidan asked, not sure he wanted the answer.

“Eventually, you’d have to leave,” John opened his eyes and turned his head lazily to look at Kaidan. “Or, earn your keep.”

“Yeah, no thank you.” Kaidan answered mortified, the disgust dripping from his voice, and he held eye contact with John’s red eyes for as long as he could humanly commit to, driving home his point.

“Thought so.” John feigned calm, his finger tapping the armrest of the rickety chair like raindrops on a roof. “I’d be careful about running into any Brotherhood Sentinels, and definitely avoid the capital and your family home for a while.” Before Kaidan could answer John got all serious for a moment. “Sarah was still alive when I left, and I’m pretty sure she holds a pretty fucking big grudge.”

“Oh,” Kaidan sighed defeated, and closed his eyes. “And now you want me to be grateful and thank you for ruining my life.” He suddenly sneered, his angry voice raising to a shout, “You took away everything I worked so hard for! Just like that.” Kaidan snapped his fingers to drive home the point.

“I’m sorry,” John said softly, his voice full of regret, “I didn’t mean to.” He had expected Kaidan to hate him, to resent him for what he did. Still it was harder to hear than he had prepared for.

Jotun walked up and asked, “Tin-man? Everything alright?”

Kaidan turned when he heard a deep voice coming from behind them.

“Yeah,” John slowly looked up at the figure blocking the sun. “He’s just upset.”

“Upset? How fucking dare you!” Kaidan attempted to get out of his chair for a moment before reconsidering. The pain flared with a vengeance in his side, and he thought he’d rip a suture or maybe all of them before he got out of the chair, so he sat back with a frown.

“It’s fine, Jotun. I can handle it,” John said with a flat voice devoid of any emotion, and after a pause Jotun turned around, leaving them alone.

“Keep your voice down,” John said slightly chiding Kaidan, before returning to soak up the sun as if nothing happened.

“Since I was a boy, all I wanted was to work for Elder Lyons,” Kaidan mumbled defeated, hanging his head.

“And how did that work out for you?” John said snidely, not moving a muscle, still pretending to soak up sun without a care in the world. “Look, all I am trying to say is that you need to make a plan B.”

“I wouldn’t know how,” Kaidan whined, his loss and frustration getting the better of him. “I’ve worked for that single thing my entire life.”

“You know, when I woke after the blast I was confused. My orders had been my entire world.” He turned his head again and looked at Kaidan. His red irises shifting as he focused. “Even after the dogs saved me I tried to recall my orders, but I only ever managed to recalled a single name. The importance was lost, I had forgotten what made project Trojan something to die for. I didn’t know what else to do. If I didn’t have my orders, then what was I? I was made to believe my existence was my orders, my sole reason for breathing was to find this admiral and kill him. I didn’t have any fail safe, didn’t have anything else, nothing”

He idly scratched a dog behind the ear as he talked. “I realized that my target must have died in the blast, and figured that it must be why my orders were botched. My superiors were probably all dead too, as far as I knew, the world was dead. And then, all I wanted was to die too, without my protocol, my orders, I was nothing. Every time I gave up, the dogs wouldn’t let me, they were there reminding me that I wasn’t lost. In the end I soldiered on, and that is exactly what you are going to do too, you are going to realize that what you thought to be solid fact is a lie and find another way to live the best you can.”

Kaidan just sat listening, he didn’t want it to make sense, and yet it made perfect sense. John was right, what options did he really have? And before he knew it, he found himself asking the question that had intrigued him ever since he had found that John was the artifact. “What…what were your orders, if you don’t mind my asking?” Kaidan’s voice was barely above a whisper.

“To kill Admiral Anderson of the US army. He was stationed somewhere near Kansas city, and so I…“ John stopped himself.  “My orders were to infiltrate the area, kill the Admiral and then kill myself,” He said wryly. “You don’t want to hear all that.”

“No, I do want to hear it.” Kaidan said noting John’s tense body language, and heard the twang of bitterness in his voice. He was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that John was manufactured, created like from some insane scientist wanting to play God. Created to be nothing but a weapon, no thought, no feelings. And yet, he sounded like any other soldier Kaidan had met who was traumatized by battle.

“Okay, well – orders were I was should injure myself, in such a devastating way that the US soldiers were forced to take me to the field hospital. That’s how I got those scars.”

John closed his eyes, scratching his gnarly scar on his face idly.

“From there, I was to locate the Admiral, kill him in any way I saw fit, and then use my kill switch to take out myself and fry my circuits so they couldn’t use any of my remains.”

“That’s… that’s what you were created for? Just that?” Kaidan managed to ask, he couldn’t even begin to imagine what mad man had thought up that solution.

“Yeah,” John said twiddling his thumbs, his hands on his stomach.

“How did you know?” Kaidan asked.

“Protocol was imprinted, it was everything I knew, it was my reason for breathing,” John said. “I can’t explain it.” He sighed deeply. “I remember one of the scientists, she had such a nice smile. She dragged me to a mirror and showed me what I looked like. I remember I was surprised that word wasn’t in my vocabulary or my protocol.”

He gave a soft sad laugh. “I thought I looked like my creators, but it was far from it. I looked like an American soldier, and I was sad that I did.” John shook his head at the memory. “Maybe I should have known something was off with my coding when I had a sense of ‘me’, I am pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to have expectations for anything.”

Kaidan soaked up the words, thinking of when he had seen himself in a power armor for the first time, he had looked so small in that mirrored glass.  “I assume you didn’t find your target.”

“Nope,” John said with a slight shrug, “The bombs beat me to it.”

“I wish I could have seen the world before,” Kaidan said with a childish dreamy tone and a soft smile.

John mirrored the smile. “There was light and cars driving on the roads, and only soldiers had guns. But all I really remember is war.”

“As a kid, I’d look at the big buildings and wonder what they had looked like when they were new and people still worked there,” Kaidan said. He too closed his eyes, trying to pull the memory out fully, “There was this car factory where I lived, and I always wondered what those cars would have looked like when they were new and shiny, and that guy with the tacky suit from the billboard would walk around trying to sell you one.”

John laughed, “That would have been something.”

They sat in silence enjoying the feel of the warm sun on their skin for a while until someone yelled for John.

“The peace is over it seems,” John sighed, and with a labored breath got up from the chair in the sun. “I’ll see you when I get back, okay?”

“Get back from where?” Kaidan asked, alarmed he would be going anywhere after all this time.

“Don’t worry, I asked Red to keep you safe,” John smiled. “And don’t let her rile you up.”

Kaidan watched as John shouldered a rifle and he slowly walked over to some of the other slavers, his faithful dogs close on his heels.

“So you’re his main squeeze,” a woman said, a menacing laugh in her voice as she flopped down in the seat that held John just moments before. He turned to look at her and saw the raw madness gleaming in her eyes, wild enough to make Kaidan shiver.

“I’m Carolina Red, you can call me Red.” She held out her hand waiting for Kaidan to shake it.

“Kaidan,” he said weakly shaking her hand.

“How did you manage to twist his head around like that, you look pretty ordinary.” She cocked her head and studied Kaidan.

“Excuse me?” Kaidan stared at the crazy woman with shock.

Red laughed.

Kaidan gestured at the small band of men walking out the gate, two Brahmin in tow, “Where are they going?”

“They’re picking up a shipment, you dope,” Red said shaking her head at Kaidan’s ignorance.

“Of what? People?”

Red raised an inquisitive brow, “Merchandise. The cages are almost empty.”

Kaidan paled but fought the urge to gag, and managed a halfhearted smile at Red, “Of course.”

-*-

On the third day Kaidan had gotten used to Red’s pretty unusual company. In fact, he’d never admit it to anyone, but he’d actually started to enjoy some sides of her personality.

“So did you fuck him?” Red asked casually one afternoon while they were sorting food rations for the slaves in the pens.

“What? No!” Kaidan squeaked, stopping dead in his movement and just stared at Red.

She turned to Kaidan, the rations forgotten. “Do you have any idea how many people I saw trying to make a pass at him, none of them succeeded, none.” She smacked her lips, impressed “And then you come along and he is acting like a kicked puppy.”

“I guess he likes me,” Kaidan heard himself say, inwardly cursing himself for using Johns words. He was a machine dammit, not a man!

“You can say that again,” Red shook her head amused.

“The Tin-man is one of the coldest motherfuckers I know, and that’s saying a lot. I have never seen him smile before the other day. Not just like you, he must like you hella lot.”

Kaidan squirmed under her piercing gaze, “You… you think he has like a crush on me?”

Red laughed so hard she had to cross her legs to not pee her pants. “Pretty sure,” She managed to get out a few minutes later when she finally caught her breath.

“I see,” Kaidan scratched his beard. “I didn’t think that someone like him,  eh I mean, he’s not even a real person for crying out loud…”

“So?” Red shrugged, her laughter dying down. “No need to analyze it, man.” She paused and placed some of the meager rations on the table. Counting on her fingers to make sure she wasn’t off by a person. “The world is insane, best you can do is just to swim along downstream.”

Kaidan bit his lip thoughtful, mirroring her picking up a handful of rations from a crate under the desk, “I don’t know…”

“Maybe it will solve itself when he returns,” Red said idly turning the ration of goo in her hand. “Guess you could always ask Eulogy for a job if you wanted to stay.”

“What?”

Red’s smile turned wide and malicious, “You mean he didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?” Kaidan’s voice cracked over as he asked.

“John is working off your debt.” Red studied the mortified expression on Kaidan’s face and her smile widened. “A year as of now. The sooner you pull your weight, or leave, the shorter his servitude will be. And believe you me, Eulogy will hold him to every last day.”

“God.” Kaidan felt dizzy and leaned against the table. “Why would he do something like that?”

Red stopped and stared at Kaidan angrily, “Would you rather he sold your ass, because he could have. You were more dead than alive when he came here with you over his shoulder.”

“No, of course not,” Kaidan barked, his expression and tone softened. “I’d just not expected, that.”

“I rest my case,” Red said with an arrogant hand gesture and a cocky bump of her hip. “If he didn’t care, he would have left your sorry ass where he found you.”

Kaidan was thinking back at the moment he realized that Sarah shot him, he heard most the words she and John had exchanged before he had passed out. She had meant to do that, maybe she had always meant to do it, and John had saved him. But then again hadn’t he been the first to throw down his weapon hoping for a peaceful solution? Was it really fair of him to think he could talk John into walking to his death just because Kaidan really wanted a promotion? If that wasn’t egocentric he didn’t know what was, and on the other hand, John had done nothing but return Kaidan’s private agenda with selfless care. Who was really the monster here? He had accused John of being a machine without thought and feelings, but realized in that moment the coldest souls for miles were all born from a woman.

-*-

Kaidan moved from the clinic over into the bunk that was John’s. He had received more than one odd glare for that, but no one had objected, Kaidan wondered if they dared. And Red, she was like a fungus, crude and disgusting, but grew on you if you let her. Some of the things she said, or even worse, her jokes were repugnant and disturbing at best.

As for the other slavers, he even managed to get a smile out of some of them. A young man named Grouse had invited Kaidan come eat with him and his companions. Forty had freaked him out, but apart from that, the rest had seemed like normal people from any settlement, just with an extraordinary way of life. As time passed, Kaidan began to understand why John had been able to relax in the sun even surrounded by all this misery. You just grew blind to it, the slaves stopped being people and were just those on the other side of the fence. Kaidan knew he would have shot himself before thinking like this just a month ago.

The camp stirred, a scout had seen the caravan return, and it looked like it had been smooth sailing. Kaidan found that he was relieved that John had not left him in this camp to fend for himself for ever. He couldn’t say he wouldn’t have done that if their roles were reversed. He ran in a steady jog to the front of the camp, outside he was met by Grouse and Red who were talking, trying to guess how much the haul would be worth if they were in good condition.

As soon as the caravan was in plain sight, Red punched Kaidan’s right upper arm while she grinned, “Finally huh?”

“Suppose so,” Kaidan squirmed embarrassed that he was caught being this exited, looking for John in the crowd. When he finally saw him his smile widened till it hurt the corners of his mouth. John was more handsome than Kaidan remembered.

“Swim along downstream. Right?”

He looked at Red who nodded encouraged. This was fucking crazy, Red was crazy, this place was crazy – he was crazy, but all he wanted was to bury John in a tight embrace. John saw them and waved, he looked worn but relieved and Kaidan wondered if he had expected that Kaidan would have run away while he was gone. As others ran out from the belly of the camp and took over the rows of slaves, John shouldered his rifle and walked over to Red and Kaidan.

“Welcome home,” Red snickered, almost bursting at the seams to push Kaidan at him, maybe if the poor fucker got laid, he’d have less of a stick up his ass.

“Eh, thank you,” John said a little confused, and before he knew what was going on he had his arms full of Kaidan, the man’s hold so tight that John had to gasp for air. He was completely thrown off kilter for a moment, but then just wrapped his arms around Kaidan and held him in return.

“Pay up!” Red hollered, holding up her arm. “Pay the fuck up, you mangy little shits.”

Kaidan started to laugh, the vibrations going right to John’s bones and he started to chuckle as well. John was full of questions, he didn’t understand why he was holding Kaidan, and he did not dare to ask in case the moment would end. He just closed his eyes and soaked up the feel of him, not sure if he was imagining things or not.

Soft hands cupped his face and John slowly opened his eyes, staring straight into Kaidan’s brown ones.

“Hey,” Kaidan said in a near whisper.

“Hey,” John sheepishly replied. And not in a million years had he expected to feel soft lips against his again, he had given up all hope of Kaidan forgiving him for his deception, and yet here he was standing in the middle of Paradise Falls, Kaidan warm and flush against him. And his lips, they did funny things to John’s spine. So caught up in the moment was John that he didn’t even hear Red hoot and demand more money from the sods who lost the bet.

“Enough of that,” Ymir stated irritated and elbowed John, he would probably have hosed them if he had had a hose. “Come help get the new merchandise settled.”

“Yeah,” John mumbled and reluctantly let go of Kaidan. “Hold that thought,” He said with a slightly troubled gaze, in contrast to his wide smile.

Red punched Kaidan’s upper arm again.

“You Sir, you just made me a wealthy woman.”

“You placed bets on me?” Kaidan asked unsurprised, rubbing his arm where her knuckles still burned on his skin. “Seriously?”

“Of course.” Red said with a victorious grin.

Kaidan frowned, but all she had done was push him a little, the rest had been all him. “I don’t know if I should punch you or kiss you.”

“How about neither if you value your balls,” Red said, her voice was hard as usual, but her smile took the sting.

-*-

The men all sat around the table eating, Kaidan was glad to feel John’s warm thigh against his, and he sat in silence listening to the stories from their caravan run. The men told a story of the super mutant they had seen with a shopping cart over its head and about getting lost because of a missing sign.

It was amazing, he thought, how numb you could become to the fact that they were laughing and casually talking about raiding settlements, picking up slaves like it was nothing, completely ignoring the fact that they had been ushering unfortunate people through it all.

“Kaidan has been working here while you were gone,” Red suddenly said to John, from the opposite side of the table.

“Really?” John was even more confused, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about it. He turned to his left and looked at Kaidan that was soaking up the last soup with some bread. “What did they make you do?”

“Relax,” Red said. “He helped me with the food for the cages.”

John searched Kaidan’s eyes for the truth, and when he nodded, John returned to his own meal. He didn’t know if it was something in the water, or if he was going crazy – How had Kaidan gone from loathing his presence, to greeting him like a long desired lover? Something was off, he just didn’t understand the transformation. When he had left Kaidan had been angry and isolated, and here he was making fun at things with the slavers around the table, humans were remarkable in that way, they truly were. Completely able to adapt to their circumstances, but as awestricken as it was, John couldn’t help but to wonder about the authenticity.

As the meal ended, they went outside to have a celebratory drink, even Crimson and Clover were around, letting the boys have a freebee feel-up. John sat with his drink between his knees, staring down at his boots, not participating in the merrymaking. He was confused and troubled – his thoughts gave him no rest, and the alcohol gave no refuge. He didn’t understand why Kaidan had turned around like that, he felt like a traitor to himself to even have these thoughts, he should just milk it for what it was, enjoy himself and Kaidan’s sudden affection. It was such a bizarre feeling, his heart beating harder with just the thought of Kaidan leaning into his touch; but at the same time a knot of worry and predestined grief formed in his stomach.

In the end, John got up silently and walked back to get his rifle and sat down in the dark to take it apart and clean it. He needed to clear his thoughts, and what better to occupy himself with than firearms? He did not see Kaidan looking up as he walked away, brown eyes following his steps till he was hidden by the walls.

Kaidan came and stood leaned against the door frame, his arms crossed over his chest as he watched John taking a rifle apart in the dim light, biting his lip deeply focused on his work.

“Is something wrong?”

“No,” John put down the rifle piece in his hand, and looked up at Kaidan, “Yes.”

He slowly got up from his seat and walked over to the table’s edge, not too close and not too far away from Kaidan. “I thought you hated me. And now this?” He held out his hands with his palms up in surrender. “I’m not complaining; I just don’t understand what the hell is going on.”

“Why did you save me?” Kaidan asked bluntly, taking a step towards John. “And why did you offer a year of your life for my medical aid?”

“I told you.” John shifted, he forced himself to look Kaidan in the eyes. “I like you.”

“No John, you like spam, you don’t sacrifice everything for it,” Kaidan said, his arms crossed over his chest again.

“I have no other words for it.”

“Red told me that lots of people tried to get you into their beds, but you never gave them a moment of your time – how come? Why me? Why this?” Kaidan was getting frustrated, taking another step towards John.

John furrowed his brows, thinking. “I didn’t want them.” He looked up at Kaidan almost as if he was asking for help.

Kaidan worried his lip.

“Look,” John sounded drained. “You don’t have to repay me; I am giving you this as a gift because I want to.”

“So that’s what this is about?” Kaidan chuckled to himself, amused that he didn’t see that one coming. “You think I’m trying to repay you?”

“I don’t know,” John whispered a little uncertain.

“I was wrong,” Kaidan said as he covered the last paces to where John stood. “I was wrong,” he said softer.

John just stared wide-eyed at Kaidan in the dark. He reached out and caressed Kaidan’s cheek, his hand shivered slightly.

“You sure?”

Kaidan smiled and nodded slightly, it felt like slipping out of a suit that was too small or something. And the shit eating grin that split on John’s face was worth it. How could he have been so blinded by the fact that he was not strictly human? John had more than 160 years to learn how to be human, and that was more than any real humans had. Who was he to say that John was less human than he?

John leaned in and kissed Kaidan again, taking his time, taking the invitation as Kaidan parted his lips, tasting everything he had to give. When Kaidan hummed a soft sound of appreciation, John pulled him closer. Without rushing against a clock, or being glared at by onlookers, they kissed until Kaidan had to break off to breathe. To John’s surprise Kaidan bit him gently on his stubbled chin, and that made him chuckle, made him think of the dogs when they were playful. So he tilted his head and went in for more kissing, he didn’t think he’d ever get enough of this feeling, the soft lips yielding to him, and the soft buzz that became all he felt.

To Kaidan’s surprise, John lifted him up like he weighed nothing and placed him on the table, tiny gun parts falling to the ground. Kaidan wrapped his legs around John’s thighs and forced John to take another step closer. John laughed as he almost fell in over Kaidan.

Kaidan used a strong hand to pull John down by the back of his neck, it was so incredibly intoxicating to know that he had John Shepard, the man, the machine that the entire fraction of the Brotherhood of Steel was afraid of, right here at his mercy. He didn’t care if that was selfish, it was the biggest turn on in history, and as he moaned softly John stopped kissing his neck and looked up slightly alarmed.

Kaidan reached for John’s belt, but John just grabbed his hand and kissed the open palm.

“Don’t” John whispered.

Kaidan straightened up, cupping John’s face with his hands, “Believe me, I want to – it’s not just…”

John’s smile faltered, as he avoided Kaidan’s gaze. “Made for war, not love.” Was all he offered, cause how could he really explain? He fully expected Kaidan’s hands to move away from his skin, but they didn’t. Instead he felt warm soft lips against the corner of his mouth.

“That is not your fault.” Kaidan whispered.

“I’m just so confused.” John laughed a little nervously. “I want to be with you, I wish I could, but I worry that maybe someday that won’t be enough.”

Kaidan forced John to look at him, “then be with me.”

“I don’t know how,” John said mesmerized by Kaidan’s breathless laugh.

“We’ll figure it out,” Kaidan replied planting a quick and soft kiss on John’s lips. “Don’t worry.”

“Okay…” John whispered with a little blush, feeling ridiculous. “If you’re sure.”

“I am,” Kaidan smiled, “Trust me.”

-*-

The cages were full to the brim, the smells and the sounds were a cacophony of misery. John never liked it, he could only ignore it up to a point. He didn’t really need sleep so he had given Kaidan his cot, and had gone to sit in the crow’s nest and keep a lookout. An idea had formed in his head during his lonely hours, and now he was just waiting for Kaidan to wake.

And a couple of hours later the camp woke up, people sluggishly moved around below him. It was not until he saw Kaidan coming out from the barracks, Red at his side and roaring with laughter, that John climbed down from his perch.

“What’s so funny?” he asked casually.

“You two.”

Red shook her head.

“What are you, 10?”

Kaidan looked mortified, and John sighed at Red’s bad attempt at being funny. He took Kaidan by the wrist.

“We need to talk,” John said with urgency. “I’ve been thinking of something.”

“I bet you have.”

Red sniggered as she left towards the bar.

“Don’t ask,” John said and hauled Kaidan off down the path. “I think I solved your problem.”

He beamed, proud of his own solution, and dying to tell Kaidan.

“I got a problem?” Kaidan asked amused as John pulled him around the corner of the building.

John kissed Kaidan quickly and smiled, “Yes, your problem of where to go.”

“Hold up!” Kaidan held up his hands. “I need coffee, or maybe even a drink before I make any sort of decision about my future. Okay?”

John nodded a little ashamed that he hadn’t thought of that.  “Sorry.” He stepped back and let Kaidan slip out from between him and the wall, not wanting to crowd him just because he was impatient.

Kaidan turned halfway back around, “You coming?”

“Absolutely,” John announced with a sigh of relief and walked after Kaidan back to the bar.

Kaidan navigated directly toward the coffee that Jotun was brewing, and he was eternally grateful that some of the people here didn’t drink booze from the time the sun rose. He leaned up against the bar, and smiled gratefully at Jotun as he handed him a cup.

Kaidan turned to John, “Okay, lay it on me.”

John leaned in close to Kaidan like was he about to share a secret. “So…I did think of something, I mean besides the obvious, for you. I mean either try your luck with some random wasteland settlement and hope you don’t run into a community of cannibals.” Someone placed a dirty glass filled with amber liquid in front of John, and he idly wrapped his hands around it, nestling his drink. “Or, the Outcasts, but then you and I,“ he paused, “I would help you locate them of course, but I’d not want to stick around.”

“I’d rather stay away from the crazy people in power armor and the cannibals, and anywhere that has both,” Kaidan smiled amused.

John laughed a little at his own fears and then looked up at Kaidan, ruby red irises focusing on Kaidan’s smile.

“But, there’s this other option. There is always the Pitt.”

Kaidan wet his lips nervously, “Isn’t that where Ismael Ashur has his little cult?”

John nodded, “Ashur, exactly. I actually think he might be your best bet.”

“How so?” Kaidan asked appalled while staring unconvinced at John, “The man is a criminal.”

“So are you,” John stated with a slightly bored expression, gesturing in the general direction of cages. “If you asked your former brothers and sisters at least.”

Kaidan took a thoughtful, silent sip of his coffee, and ran a hand through his hair.

“I suppose you’re right, I never quite saw it like that.”

“You ought to,” John said with a worried little tick on the corner of his eye as he attempted a halfhearted smile. “You need to hide for a while, and the Pitt would be perfect.”

He leaned in and whispered, “I heard through the grapevine, that he is searching for the perfect candidate to be his daughter’s bodyguard.”

“How do you know he won’t just kill me?”

“I don’t. But I know he has respect for renegade brotherhood, such as himself.”

Kaidan sighed hopelessly, “And just why should he believe me?”

“Because you still have your holotags.” John stated with a deft little tug of his upper lip, “And I’ll fix up a suit of armor, so he can’t afford not to hire you.” John smiled and took Kaidan’s hand between then, pressed against his thigh. “You’re going to blow all the other candidates out of the water. I’m sure of it.”

“It’s quite the gamble,” Kaidan said softly, and then squeezed John’s hand. “I could just stay here, blend in and wait for you.”

John nodded, listening.

“You could. But please consider it. I take trips there once a month at least, I could see you then. And maybe we could figure out what this is.” He paused and took a sip of his drink, “This, us, I mean.”

-*-

And so the morning of the next caravan to the Pitt, John sat in the crow’s nest again, but this time Kaidan was curled up against him snoring lightly. It baffled him a little how protective he felt, like he would burn down the world before he would let anyone harm the man sleeping here in his arms. He wondered if that was love, if they just failed to mention how scary it felt in all the songs. He had been working for weeks in a closed garage on the power armor, he had bought some parts, other parts he had found and some he had stolen. And now it was done, his opus. As much as he admired his own work, he had been dragging his heels on it, knowing that once it was done, Kaidan leaving would be real. It hadn’t even been that long, but John wasn’t sure he knew how to be alone again.

“Come on wake up,” he whispered. “Today is the day.”

Kaidan stretched sleepily, and then curled around John even more.

“Don’t you want to see your new armor?” John asked softly, running his fingers through Kaidan’s matted hair.

“You are going to make me wake up, aren’t you?” Kaidan mumbled against John’s chest.

“It’s either that, or Red is going to come collect you herself. And you don’t want that.”

“True,” Kaidan yawned as he propped himself up to sit next to John. He blinked, slowly getting used to the dawn’s light.

“I’m not sure I want to go,” he laughed a little forlorn. “How crazy is that?”

“Why?” John asked honestly, studying Kaidan, “I don’t want you to leave either.”

“I mean just a few months ago, slavers were scum, you were a robot to capture and I was sure of how my life was going to pan out. Everything neat and orderly,” Kaidan shook his head amused, “And look at me now.”

“Sometimes endings are just new beginnings,”

Kaidan smiled, “Profound words from a tin man.”

John didn’t react, he just looked out over the wasteland that slowly got radiated by the sun’s rays. “If you could go back, would you?”

“I don’t know. I miss the order, the certainty.”

John nodded.

“I know what you mean.” He turned his head and looked at Kaidan with a serious look on his face,  “Chaos has its own order, it’s just a question of learning a new set of rules.”

Kaidan chuckled, “You say the weirdest things sometimes.”

“I do?” John sounded honestly surprised.

“I’m just going to leave it at that,” Kaidan kissed John’s cheek before he turned to crawl down the crow’s nest.

This morning was like any other morning, except there was a strange feeling in the air. People were not as loud, even Jotun looked a little sad when he handed Kaidan some coffee. If Kaidan didn’t know better, it felt like someone died.

Cutter broke the silence, he placed some rad-x and psycho on the table in front of Kaidan. “A little something for your travels.”

Before Kaidan could reply Red placed a hunting knife in front of him. “It’s a good knife,” she said.

When all was done Kaidan sat and looked down at his bounty, a bottle of what he thought might be scotch, drugs, the knife, and a box of what he figured was rounds for a revolver and some sugar bombs. Jotun had given him a little bag of coffee, which had almost brought him to tears.

“Thank you,” he said as he looked up at the weird collection of people milling about. He had long since stopped being offended of how they made their living, he was sure they were very unpleasant people if you were unlucky, but wasn’t everyone? This was the second nicest thing anyone had ever done to him for no apparent reason. “I mean that, thank you!”

“You’re welcome,” Forty growled and turned to leave. “We got some preparation to get done folks.”

Even Eulogy came by at one point, he just smiled at Kaidan and wished him a safe trip. Eulogy even went so far as to say that Kaidan was always welcome back if he needed to find work.

John sat silent and stoic at Kaidan’s side through it all.

“Want to see your armor?” Red asked.

“Tin-man fixed it up, and I painted it.”

“Sure,” Kaidan said getting up from his seat, only to discover that John made no attempt to stand as well. “John?”

“Go ahead, I have to get something done first,” John smiled sadly, his eyes not meeting Kaidans. “I’ll be there in a second.”

Kaidan wasn’t happy but Red pulled him along, and she was not a compromising girl so Kaidan nearly stumbled and fell twice on their way to the garage.

“Look!” She beamed and pulled a filthy sheet off the power armor.

“What the!” Kaidan’s eyes went wide. “Power armor?” He gingerly touched the cool metal, “Where did you find this?”

“I built it,” John said from behind them.

Kaidan whipped around to be met with John’s tentative smile. “But when?”

“Does it matter?” John asked and held out a backpack. “This is your stuff.”

“Thanks,” Kaidan mumbled, taking the bag. He turned to the power armor again. “I love it. It looks nothing like a brotherhood crest.” He pointed at the arrow and stars on the shoulder.

“It’s neat isn’t it?” John asked stepping closer. “It was Red’s idea to paint that.”

“It was a design I once saw in a comic, thought it appropriate.” She shrugged.

“It’s perfect,” Kaidan said dreamily. “And you fixed it up and everything?”

“Yep.” John nodded as he ran his fingers lovingly over the metal of the power armor. “Each piece was taken apart, fixed up and painted blue.” He looked up at Kaidan. “Try it on.”

Kaidan gingerly stepped behind the power armor and opened it, he stepped inside and the armor closed around him. He lifted a foot and waved a hand. “It’s smoother than anything else I’ve ever worn.” He grinned at John. “Oh baby, this is beautiful!”

John blushed slightly at the silly endearment, “You’re welcome.”

“You have given me so many gifts, and I never returned one single one. I swear it’s not…” Kaidan started feeling a little humbled by the experience.

John placed a hand on the metal where Kaidan’s heart would be on the other side. “Those gifts are yours because I wanted to give them, not because I wanted something in return.”

“That’s not something you hear every day out here in the wasteland,” Red muttered as she made for the exit. “Better go help get the merchandise herded up and ready.”

John nodded. “We’ll finish up here.” He walked over to a table and picked up Sarah’s laser rifle. “I made some advancements to it. But it still fits.” He slipped the rifle into a holster he’d added to the armor’s thigh. “Like a real cowboy.” He looked up at Kaidan with a smile, only to find tears in Kaidan’s eyes. “Why are you crying?” He asked worried.

“I don’t know,” Kaidan sniffled. “I’m sad and happy at the same time.”

John looked away from Kaidan’s teary face, and nodded wistfully. “Me too.” He took a deep breath and bend down to pick up Kaidan’s backpack, handing it to him. “Here you go.”

Kaidan made no attempt to take the bag, he just stood still flexing his hands, breathing unevenly through his nose, until he turned his head away from John with a barely audible ‘dammit’.

John stood up on the power armor’s feet, and with a grimy hand he tenderly wiped Kaidan’s tears away.

“And you say you never give me anything,” he muttered, rubbing wet fingertips against each other. He looked up at Kaidan in pure awe. “You give me everything.”

Kaidan smiled weakly back and tried to will his tears to stop.

“I should go help them prep, I’ll see you soon okay?” John mumbled as he stepped down to the ground, patting the heavy metal gently before he literally fled for the exit to the camp. He had to get out of there! It was worse than he had imagined, the feeling of seeing Kaidan’s tears, knowing that he was the reason for them. It made him want to scream! He just had to distance himself from it he was going to go through with this. Never in a million years had he thought this would be how it felt to love, like a roller-coaster with no breaks.

-*-

It felt like it always felt, like wearing a power suit, being nearly invincible – the closest to being a God one could get. And yet it felt strange, alien even, to walk next to a long line of slaves and some slow Brahmin. He could see John walking at the back of the group talking to Grouse and someone Kaidan didn’t know. If anyone had told him just weeks ago that he would be guarding a slave caravan while on its way to the Pitt, he would have called them crazy. And yet here he was, he was still trying his best not to look at the unfortunate souls in the caravan, he didn’t like those empty, resigned eyes.

They passed Mason Dixon Salvages, and continued northwest through the wasteland. Kaidan was fed up of the long trek and the monotony of just walking.

“Hey,” John called as he jogged up next to Kaidan, he looked concerned. “You look tired.”

“It’s nothing,” Kaidan shrugged, sporting his best brave smile.

“I hope so,” John said in all honesty. “’Cause we won’t stop till after we get there, it’s just too dangerous.” He handed Kaidan something Kaidan thought looked like iguana on a stick. “Here, eat something.”

Kaidan gratefully took the stick and bit into it. “How long are you going to stay when we get there?”

“Till the next day,” John said with a boyish sweet smile.

“You’re awfully confident that he’s gonna hire me,” Kaidan scoffed.

“Of course,” John stated. “It’s only logical, he needs someone he can trust, someone who isn’t connected to any other fraction that could jeopardize the job. He needs someone who can fight and shoot, someone who can follow orders but also think on their feet.” He beamed at Kaidan, “And you are the perfect candidate.”

“Yeah, about that.” Kaidan reached for his water canteen to rinse down the meat. “Aren’t these slavers in a faction on their own? So if I arrive with you guys then he’d think I was one of them.”

John shook his head, “You’re a part of the delivery, we’re offering you a service.”

“What the hell are you talking about.”

“You paid for the luxury,” He said, wetting his lips.

“I paid for your trip. I knew you couldn’t afford it, and you couldn’t do without your rifle. And I knew they wouldn’t take you for free.” He placed a hand on the small of Kaidan’s back tenderly outside the metal.

“It’s not rare that merchants or important people pay to accompany a caravan of this size, lots of guns mean lots of protection.”

“You paid for me?” Kaidan repeated. “Would you stop with that?”

“What?”

“Stop doing these things behind my back?” Kaidan sneered, refusing to look at John, and shrugged off his hand as he tried to grab Kaidan’s shoulder. “I don’t need a babysitter.”

“But I–” John looked up at Kaidan in shock.

“Just what did you pay them with?” Kaidan asked furiously.

“Caps.”

“You don’t have any caps, liar.” Kaidan protested as he picked up pace.

“No, I did have caps before I paid for the protection and gave you the rest in your bag,” John replied with a clipped tone, attempting to slow Kaidan down again with a hand that was batted away. “Just what are you accusing me of?”

“Don’t be a jerk, John,” Kaidan growled.

“Who’s being a jerk?” John yelled loud enough so others turned and looked at them. “If you need me I’ll be in the back!” and with that he turned and jogged down to the end of the caravan again.

Kaidan walked on in a brisk pace cursing under his breath, he loved that John would give him all these things so selflessly, but it pissed him off that he catered to his needs like a damn princess. If John at least would let him in on it, he would feel flattered instead of emasculated.

They had been walking for hours when someone yelled “Fort Constantine! We’re almost here!”

Kaidan looked up at the horizon and sure enough there was a structure ahead of them which he assumed was the Fort. His mind took him back to the thought of Sarah and how excited he had been when they had set out into the wasteland. Sure he had travelled through it before, but never on such a big mission. He had thought it would be cut and dry, find the organic android and bring it back, easy-peasy, he could complete it with his hands tied behind his back. He chuckled to himself, nothing had been further from the truth. But thinking of the past made him miss his old life a little, and once he was settled somewhere he’d have to send word to his parents somehow. Surely they would be worried, he didn’t know what story Sarah had given once she had returned to headquarters, that he was missing out in the wasteland? That he was dead? What if his parents thought he was dead? He absolutely had to find a way to send them word. If he ever got settled he chided himself, John’s ridiculous faith in his abilities starting to rub off on him.

Before too long, they started to walk up a path into some hills. It was in these hills where the first sign for the Pitt appeared. He was walking in his own thoughts, and had not heard John move up behind him, but he felt the hand that grabbed his wrist carefully.

“I’m sorry,” John said trying to sound casual, but his body language gave him as anything but. “You’re right.”

“I’m sorry too.”

“You’re not angry anymore?” John smiled a relieved smile.

“No. I’m just tired.”

“We’re here,” John said as the caravan stopped in front of the tunnel.

John turned around and saw Jotun talk with Ramsey and show him the cage with the few slaves that were destined to go back with them to Paradise Falls, to be shipped out to elsewhere wasteland.

“So,” John said quickly, turning towards Kaidan again. “Take the handcar, that will take you to the Pitt. Ask for directions to Haven, that’s where Ashur lives.” He took a deep breath, “You have around 120 caps in your bag, use them wisely, they’re for bribes and the like, don’t hesitate using them.” John looked over his shoulder again. “Ashur’s daughter’s name is Marie, and if he asks you where you heard about it, just say you picked up chatter among the talon mercenaries and came to check out if it was true.” John rose on his toes and cupped Kaidan’s face with his hands.

“Be safe.”

“You too,” Kaidan said as he stared John directly into his ruby colored eyes. “How will we find each other again?”

“Don’t worry, I will find you. Now go.”

He pulled Kaidan down a little until their lips met.

It was a short kiss but Kaidan felt dizzy as he walked past the rows of slaves towards the handcar, the turned around to see John still standing where he left him.

-*-

Hours later John stepped into the Pitt, it smelled like it always had, like burning hair, sweat, and something chemical. He followed the others to a bar and sat down for a drink, but he was absent minded and worried about how Kaidan were doing. It had taken hours to conclude the deal, and he still had to take a group to the ingot processing plant, but first he wanted a drink with the others.

“Want me to take your group?” Jotun asked, taking a swing from his water flask.

“You’d do that?” John asked.

“Go find out what happened to Kaidan.” Jotun said, “And Tin-man? Be back by tomorrow at dusk outside the tunnel.”

“I will.” John jolted out of his chair so fast that it fell over. “Thank you.” He hurried out of the bar, and all but sprinted towards Haven. He ran through the market, past the fighting pit where he could hear the crowd cheer. He dodged under a fence and under pipes to get there faster, and thirty minutes later, he stopped a guard at the empty square in front of the looming building which was Haven. “Krenshaw, I need to see him.” He said.

“He’s busy with some new recruit.” The guard said.

John’s heart leapt in his chest. “New recruit?”

“Some crazy motherfucker that just showed up and asked for work.” The guard shrugged, “Don’t know if he got it, but I’d think so since his body hasn’t been tossed from a window yet.”

John let out a breath he had been holding. He waited for a while, but after several hours he decided that Kaidan not exiting the building through either windows or doors was a good sign, and in the end John had to return through the tunnel without ever having seen Kaidan, but it was okay, he knew he was safe, he knew that Ashur had taken him under his wing – and for Kaidan that was one of the safest places to be.

-*-

Another two months would pass before John made another trip to the Pitt. In his backpack he carried the finest tuned sniper rifle he had ever made, even better than the first he had gifted Kaidan back at the gas station. He had appreciated that no one had as much as mentioned Kaidan. It was like the Sentinel had never existed at Paradise Falls, life had just continued as always, which made it easier to let the days roll by, waiting.

He was a jittery mess of nerves and anticipation as they waited outside the tunnel, he rushed his job and all but sprinted to Haven. Again, he asked for Krensaw and was made to wait. He paced the square, unable to stay still, his thoughts raced, what if Kaidan was angry, what if he was dead, what if he had been wrong? Ashur was not exactly mentally stable, and it was a dog-eat-dog world, there was just no reassurance.

[He had come to the arena to die; the endless sweep of days had just ground him down to the point where he felt his sanity slip. The gut-wrenching, all consuming silence was pierced by a flickering light, like broken pieces of old code was flaring back to life, all he wanted was to destroy, break, tear apart, murder. The Pitts fighting arena had proved the perfect place to satiate his hunger, he didn’t care what they sent into the ring with him, he would kill it none the less, beast or man. The cheering crowd was banging the grate that kept the killers in the arena from the citizens, chanting ‘Tin-man, tin-man’. Faster and faster to match his heartbeat – he never felt more alive than he did right before they unleashed whatever was unfortunate enough to die at his feet.

The Hole.

This was what made his blood sing, this was what was born to do – This was all he was.]

“Tin-man.” A voice said flatly from behind him, torn from his memory so vivid he could almost smell the blood, he swiftly turned and saw the bulky man he knew to throw a more than decent right a hook.

“Krenshaw,” he said with a polite nod. “I came to see Kaidan.”

“Who?”

John blinked confused, “The man in the blue power armor, that came here some time ago.”

“Ah yes. Lieutenant Alenko.” Krenshaw said with a nod. “What do you want with him?”

“I want to see him,” John said, not sure if he was pissed at being stalled, or relieved that Krenshaw knew Kaidan.

“Why?” Krenshaw asked with a bored expression.

“What are you? His secretary?” John asked getting annoyed, crossing his arms over his chest. “I need to speak to him, that is all you need to know.”

“Easy there, little Tin-man. It was just a question,” Krenshaw said, his expression still bored as ever.

“And I was just answering you.”

Krenshaw stared at the man that stood more than a head below him, but he had seen him fight in the Hole, and had absolutely no desire to let it go as far as that.

“He’s somewhere on Ashur’s floor.”

“Thank you,” John answered coolly before he turned on his heels and started to run up the stairs to the door. Krenshaw nodded at the guards who just let John through. He ran up the stairs as fast as he could, he almost stumbled headfirst into Ashur, who stood near the doorway. John looked up at the towering man, taking a deep breath.

“I’m sorry,” he rambled. “I came to see your new Lieutenant, I was in a hurry –“

“Tin-man. It’s been a while,” Ashur said calmly.

“I know,” John answered politely, craning his neck to look at Ashur. “I never thought I’d return to this, but…”

“I know,” Ashur just said with a knowing grin.

“You know?”

“Alenko tells Sandra stories, and she tells me,” Ashur said with his deep baritone voice. “So, I know.”

“Oh.” John squirmed a little, uncomfortable with how weird it all was. “Can I see him?”

“Of course,” Ashur said and started to walk, John followed closely. “There has been some trouble with some raiders and workers, so he has been with Marie as a safety precaution. Krenshaw has plenty nasty conspiracies about their plans, one of them was to hurt my daughter.” Ashur turned to John, “He’s a good man, one of the best,” Ashur said solemnly. “And you are not, you are everything that went wrong with the old world, and somehow you spilled over into this place.”

“I already know that,” John said, holding up his hand to stop Ashur’s lecture. “But I love him, and that has to count for something.”

“Oh, it does,” Ashur said. “It counts for everything, little Tin-man.” He looked up and down John’s figure, “It can change someone like you, and it can change a man like me.”

John only nodded, knowing exactly what Ashur meant. The last time he had had dealings with Ashur, John had been dead, empty, angry, and just wanted to drown in blood, be it his own or others. He had been fighting in the Hole till Ashur had asked him to leave his city and not come back until he had learned some control. Never in the history of the Hole had a fighter been asked to stop, that was in some way a dubious victory, and not exactly a fond memory.

“He’s in there with Sandra and Marie.”

Ashur gestured at the door at the end of the corridor. Ashur walked down the corridor and gently opened the door.

“Alenko, I have a surprise for you.” He opened the door wide to reveal John standing out in the decrepit, once pompous hall, looking terribly out of place and small.

“John!” Kaidan gasped and shot out of his chair, brushing past Ashur and grabbed John, lifting him off the ground.

“Baby, you came.” He laughed kissing John.

John felt so happy he could burst. “I missed you,” he muttered between kisses.

Kaidan set down John on the ground, but held his face firm between his hands, kissing him again. This time it was a slow kiss full of promise and tongue. As the kiss ended, Kaidan hadn’t stopped grinning, “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Me too,” John answered with a satisfied expression, caressing Kaidan’s cheek tenderly.  It was not until Kaidan let go of him completely that John bend down, opened his bag, took out the sniper and handed it to Kaidan, “I made you a new one, to replace the one you lost in Arefu.” He smiled wide.

“Oh, John.” Kaidan’s voice broke with emotion. “It looks perfect.” He shouldered the weapon and aimed down the hall on a skittish raider who had stopped and stared.

“Thank you,” Kaidan said as he shouldered the weapon. “I wish I had something for you. But I don’t.”

“Don’t worry about it,” John shrugged still smiling, “I had a lot of downtime and spare parts.”

Kaidan rose a brow and looked at John, he could tell from the quality of the rifle that that simply wasn’t true, the spare parts looked very expensive.

“I love it,” he just said, letting the gift be a gift. “How long are you here?”

“I’m leaving tomorrow at dusk,” John said as he shuffled his feet a little. “I understand that you’re needed here, so I thought I’d just come by and give you the rifle and maybe we can find time next time, right?” John smiled hopefully at Kaidan, trying to mask his disappointment.

Kaidan nodded.

“Yeah, I’m sorry. Next time I promise…”

“Ashur,” Sandra’s voice sounded much louder than it was in the silent corridors.

“But what about…” Ashur started to answer, but Sandra cut him off.

“Have Krenshaw take his shift.”

Ashur smiled lovingly at his wife, “You’re right,” he said and turned to Kaidan and John who stood silently in the hall. “Go on, take the day off. Be back tomorrow.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure,” Ashur said with a firm nod and a hand gesture for them to get going.

-*-

“You have to see this,” Kaidan chuckled as he opened his door. “It’s all mine.”

“Wow.” John whistled as he stepped inside Kaidan’s room, he walked directly to the window and looked out over the square.

“It’s fantastic.” Without turning around he idly asked, “Were your rooms this nice in the capital?”

“No, man,” Kaidan said as he climbed out of his power armor, and walked over to John. Kaidan wrapped his arms around John from behind. “I missed you so much.”

John place a hand on top of Kaidan’s, “I missed you too. But I’m glad to see you’re happy here.”

“Suppose so.” Kaidan bit John’s ear lightly, “I’d be happier if you were here with me.”

“I have something I wanted to show you, I don’t know…Maybe it’s dumb.” He slid a piece of cloth out of his pocket, it was a patch, like the ones on a military uniform. “It’s mine,” he said, “Back right before I left the facility.”

Kaidan took it gingerly, “John Shepard,” He smiled, “I like that.”

“It was what my uniform said. I had this strip right along here,” he gestured at the left side of his chest.

“I like your name,” Kaidan said softly.

John laughed a little.

“What color were your eyes?” Kaidan asked studying the patch. “Grey?”

“Blue,” John said, never mentioning he knew because he had dug blue shards out of his eyelids.

Kaidan smiled. “I bet that color looked really suited you.”

John pocketed the patch again, and turned around in Kaidan’s arms, letting Kaidan push his jacket down over his shoulders so he could shrug it off. He raised his arms as Kaidan pulled his shirt over his head. Kaidan’s hand ran down John’s chest and down to his stomach. “You are softer than I imagined.”

John barked a little nervous laugh at that, and mirrored Kaidan pulling the other man’s shirt over his head before he pulled him in for a kiss, enjoying the exquisite feeling of skin against skin. As Kaidan pushed him up against the bed, John took a deep breath and let Kaidan take charge, it was all new and overwhelming to him. He could not get enough of touching Kaidan’s soft skin, his protruding hipbones, and the feel of his spine like pointy pebbles under his palms. So this was making love? John went out of his way to keep up, mirroring Kaidan his hands fumbling and his kisses sloppy, he could feel Kaidan’s muscles flex and quiver against his skin. A fine layer of sweat formed on Kaidan’s skin and John’s heart swelled at the sound and feel of Kaidan’s moans against the crook of his neck. All this for him, all this tenderness was for John.

Suddenly Kaidan rolled off him, unto his back next to John, trying to catch his breath. Confused John propped himself up on an elbow looking at his lover with his ruby red eyes. He studied the rise and fall of Kaidan’s chest for a while.

Kaidan blinked hard, then turned his head to look at John who was beside him, watching him – only his facial expression and body language gave away emotion, but those eyes…

Those eyes were like those of a doll, constant. Unchanging and dead.

John snuggled against Kaidan, feeling the strange shift, and needed the reassurance, or the same warm body contact he had had moments ago. Kaidan turned his head the other way, and sucked in his breath like he was about to say something but didn’t. John kissed Kaidan’s shoulder and looked up at Kaidan’s face. “What is it?”

“I don’t know what I expected,” Kaidan said sounding heartbroken, and hollow. “But that was not it.”

John blinked confused, cold panic flushed over him, “did I do something wrong? Did I hurt you?”

“No,” Kaidan said and a little smile played on his lips. “No you didn’t, I’m sure you did everything you could.” Kaidan sat up with his back to John who was still laying in the bed behind him. “God, John. I can’t!”

“What, can’t what?” John asked again, his heart beating so fast his pulse felt like a drum throughout his entire body, he wrapped his arms around Kaidan from behind, needing the close body contact, aching to know they were okay.

“Nothing,” Kaidan lied, turning his head to kiss John on the cheek.

“Then, why are you suddenly sad?” John asked, “You sound sad.” He kissed Kaidan’s shoulder and smiled against the cooling skin.

“We waited so long for this, I thought…” Kaidan didn’t finish the sentence, he just hung his head.

John slowly pushed off Kaidan, he didn’t know what was wrong, but this was definitely not how it was supposed to be when you made love. “What did you think? Please tell me why I upset you. I can fix it; I promise,” His voice rising to a desperate pitch.

“I thought that it wouldn’t matter,” Kaidan paused, “I need to think John, this just…“

John took a deep breath and looked at Kaidan’s bony back, he rose a hand to touch him, but let it fall to his side without making contact, not sure what to do. “I’m sorry. I really wanted to – I thought that if we just – ” He swallowed hard and looked down at his feet, “Maybe that was stupid of me.”

“I can’t – ” Kaidan mumbled, not looking at John.

“Okay,” John mumbled, his skin felt like a slight electrical current made all the hairs on his arms stand, and his cheeks sting. “I suppose I’ll let you have some privacy,” he said.

He dressed quickly, and the unnerving heavy silence made him super uncomfortable, he wanted nothing more than for it to end. He hesitantly walked to the exit and reached for the doorknob, but then turned to look at Kaidan, unmoving on the bed, he couldn’t just leave without saying something. Inside his chest was this little nagging fear that if he left without saying something,  that would be the end of them.

“Maybe I could come back later, and,” He stopped talking when he heard a sniffle, and for a long moment he just stared at Kaidan’s shoulders shaking. John let go of the doorknob and took a step towards Kaidan, stopping dead in his track, not sure how to react to all this. “Are you crying?” He finally asked.

“No,” Kaidan answered with a wet voice, hiding his face behind his arms.

John shuffled his feet, he wasn’t sure why, or how, but this was his fault. All he had wanted was to make love, and instead he had made Kaidan cry. He never intended that, never had he wanted to do anything that would make him upset. It was gut-wrenchingly terrifying and confusing at the same time. In the end he walked over to Kaidan and kneeled down in front of him, caressing the arm that hid Kaidan’s face.

“Please tell me what’s wrong.” When Kaidan didn’t answer, John bit his lip. “I love you. You know there is nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”

“John,” Kaidan finally whispered.

“What?” John asked, halfway afraid of the answer.

“Just go, please,” Kaidan said muffled behind his arm.

“Alright,” John said sadly, ending his caresses, his hands still on Kaidan’s bare knees. “If that is what you need, I just don’t under…”

“Stop touching me!” Kaidan suddenly cried out loud, catching John completely off guard, surprising him so much he fell over and sat flat on his ass.

“Sure, okay” John muttered as he scrambled to his feet. He collected his things and went for the door again, his hand hovering over the doorknob, his mind racing, assaulted by the same fatalistic feeling as before.  “Told you,” he said with a little frown, “I warned you that someday it wouldn’t be enough.” But Kaidan didn’t answer and in the end, John had no other option than to leave, and as he closed the door behind him, he felt like his world was sliding out of place. And as he walked down the stairs from Haven he felt like his chest was going to implode with a strange feeling of nothingness.

-*-

Come morning, John found himself sitting on a chair outside the dingy tavern his friends were drinking at. A few of them had come outside to check on him. They had all wondered why he was back already, but he hadn’t answered any of their questions, so, in the end they stopped asking.

-*-

The next time they had had a run to the Pitt, John had not wanted to come, but tagged along anyway. Since it was his last job for Eulogy, it was only fitting, really.

He had been slow and sluggish at finishing his job delivering the merchandise and he found himself look up at Haven. He wondered if Kaidan was still there. He placed a hand on his messenger bag, he had made an upgraded magazine for the rifle he had given Kaidan, and he was debating if he should just go there and give it to him. After all it had been months since that terrible evening, and maybe Kaidan wasn’t scared anymore, and maybe he was even the happy, smiling Kaidan again. Oh how John wished for happy Kaidan when he found himself walking across the square.

The guards at the front didn’t stop him, and soon he found himself trotting the long way up to Ashur’s private floor. John stood at the landing for a long while not sure where to go, fidgeting with the new magazine in his hands. And then he saw him, he was still wearing the blue power armor, looking every bit as handsome as ever, and as far as John could see, Kaidan had even put on a little weight, which made him look healthy and bright. Kaidan was laughing, carrying a mug in his hand, the raider next to him must have said something funny, John thought.

When Kaidan eventually glanced over at him, his smile died and John’s smile faltered.

“Hey…” he said, waving awkwardly.

Kaidan said something to the raider next to him, and then walked over to John at the top of the stairs.

“What are you doing here?”

“I came to see you,” John said softly. “I made this for you, and uhm, here.”

He held out the magazine to Kaidan. “It’s an upgrade.”

“You shouldn’t have come here,” Kaidan said, his mouth a fine line.

John looked down at his hand with the unaccepted gift in it. He slowly put it back in his bag.

“I suppose not,” he mumbled, suddenly regretting terribly that he even came back to the Pitt, he never wanted to hear that detached slightly condescending tone in Kaidan’s voice again. He took a deep breath. “This is my last run for Eulogy. I came to see if you were still sad, or… and maybe I came to say goodbye, I don’t know.”

“John,” Kaidan said in a little sigh.

“I know,” John said softly. “I should leave.”

Kaidan placed a hand on John’s shoulder. “For what it’s worth, I really appreciate everything you did for me. I wouldn’t even be alive if it wasn’t for you. Thank you.”

John looked the hand on his shoulder and then up at Kaidan’s face, he didn’t see a shadow of the gentle smile or loving gaze he had been used to. He saw a man struggling with his words, trying to look composed.

“You’re welcome,” John said in a hushed voice. “Anyway,” he said in a fake cheerful tone. “I promised Red I’d meet her after I went to see you.” It was a lie, but Kaidan didn’t need to know that. If there was something he had learned about humanity in all his years was that they lied all the time, sometimes to get out of trouble, sometimes to protect themselves, and sometimes just because they could.

“If you ever come back to the Pitt, come see me. Maybe we could have a beer or something,” Kaidan shrugged.

“You don’t have to lie,” John said with a flat tone. “We both know I won’t come back, and you don’t want to have a beer with me.”

Kaidan’s masked cracked for a second, and he looked terribly lost and broken. “Suppose you’re right,” he said with a barely audible voice.  “So…where are you going now?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t made any plans, besides settling my debt with Eulogy.”

“Yeah, about that,” Kaidan said as he scratched his neck. “I have some caps you can have; I don’t know, something to help make up for all that work.”

John stared at Kaidan in disbelief. “That was my gift to you, don’t you dare offer me caps for it.” He balled up his hands into fists as his anger rose, tinting his neck and cheeks red.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Kaidan mumbled. “It’s just, I…”

“No,” John yelled, making everyone on the floor turn around and stare at them, there at the landing of the stairs. “Don’t you fucking dare!” He turned around and took a couple of steps down the stairs, and then turned, “I did what I did because I loved you! Isn’t that what love is? To give unconditionally. I loved you!” His voice rose to a shrill scream. The dogs who had been waiting at the foot of the stairs came running up to see what upset their master so.

“You are a machine, nothing more nothing less,” Kaidan suddenly said loudly. “You don’t know what love is, you just mimic what real living people do and try to pass it off as your humanity.”

John opened his mouth to answer but found he couldn’t. His chest was burning with confusion and betrayal, and his hands were shaking slightly. “I see,” he finally managed to say.

“No, you don’t!” Kaidan suddenly yelled. “You spent so many years learning human behavior, that you managed to trick yourself into believing that you are one of us. “

John felt the color drain from his face, he blinked feeling tears sting in the corner of his eyes. “Is that really what you think of me?”

Kaidan took a step down the stairs too, but quickly backed up to the top again as the dogs snarled at him. “Please don’t think that I don’t like you, or appreciate everything you did for me, it was more than anyone could ask for.”

“You said you loved me,” John whispered to himself. “You said you loved me!” He yelled, his voice broke over.

“I know,” Kaidan said. “I was wrong.”

“Wrong? Wrong?!” John bellowed.

“Yes, wrong,” Kaidan said. “Love to you is a mathematical calculation, but to us humans it’s something we can’t control. And I am sorry I ever went along with it, I suppose I was flattered cause no one ever gave me the same attention as you did. But it doesn’t change the fact that you are – not human.” Kaidan looked away from John on the landing below him, and the antsy snarling dogs, ready to defend their companion. “It was about as real as a mirror image,” he said. “A lifelike copy of the real thing, but void of what makes the original real. And in that sense, it’s just that a fleeting replica of life.”

“I don’t understand,” John said with a wet voice full of tears. “It was real; I know it was real…”

“Of course you don’t understand,” Kaidan said in a slightly patronizing tone. “Human emotions are chaotic, and yours are dictated by logic and math.”

“Stop saying that!” John yelled.

“Infiltrators can feel pain, be broken, cry, bleed and imitate just about any human feature, what you can’t do is process feelings like a person. You said it yourself, you were created for one purpose only,” Kaidan countered harshly. He paused before adding, “And if you must know, when I was with you, that’s when I saw you for the soulless machine that you are, completely unable to give the warmth and closeness humans require – You give me caps and upgrades. Honestly it scared the shit out of me that I had willingly let it spiral out of control like that. Somehow I was tricked into forgetting that you are made out of spare parts and synthetic tissue, but that afternoon made it painfully obvious – and it broke my heart if you can believe it. It was like losing my lover and best friend while their face was still there staring at me, their voice asking me questions…”

John didn’t answer, and after some awkward moments Kaidan yelled from the top of the stairs. “Say something dammit!”

“What is there to say?” John said, sounding slightly dazed like he had just gotten a hard punch to his head. He felt like the hole inside him was growing and threatening to swallow him whole. He looked up at Kaidan with a tired, dead expression, “I didn’t trick you.”

Funny, as he looked at Kaidan there at the top of the stairs he felt like he should thank him for teaching him so much, how to love, feel loved and how to be happy. And most of all, how it felt to have your heart broken. Maybe Kaidan was right, maybe this is what made up human emotions, maybe it had been the missing piece – the bit that he had not understood. That love is not only the high of being a part of something bigger, feeling like the king of the world, but it’s also like a storm that could tear down all your defenses and strike with deadly accuracy.

He had never thought that love could feel like this when he had begun this odd journey with Kaidan, but now he knew – he looked into Kaidan’s once warm brown eyes, and he knew. This was the end of them, the love they had shared was reduced to a memory and a lie.

“I gave you everything I am, and I gave it to you unconditionally,” John said with a barely controlled voice, “I’m sorry it wasn’t enough.”

“I’m sorry too,” Kaidan said, his voice had no bite to it anymore.

“That’s a lie, and you know it,” John said sounding tired. “Come on dogs,” he said as he started to descend the stairs, he didn’t look over his shoulder because he knew that Kaidan was still standing at the top looking down.

John walked past the tavern without saying goodbye to Red or Jotun, he just continued out of the city and walked straight out to the wasteland. He felt like screaming, screaming until his voice broke forever. later, when his sorrow and anger had faded, he’d march towards Rivet City, he had heard that there was a man there called Pinkerton who had helped other synthetics to escape, and that this Pinkerton could do facial construction, mind sweeps – the works. He looked up at the sky as he walked on down the road, maybe he could have eyes blue as the sky again, maybe he could travel far away and start over, this experience the wiser.

Kaidan was safe, and in time he’d be happy. That was enough for John, he knew Kaidan didn’t love him anymore, but no one said that he couldn’t still love Kaidan.

-*-

A year later and John had found the infamous Pinkerton and had found that life in Rivet City was alright. It was safe and undramatic, and so he had stayed long enough think things over. In the end he had gotten himself a Brahmin and set out as a wasteland trader. Aviators and a cap, his two dogs at his feet, and a large inventory.

He was almost out of the Capital when he ran into a squad of brotherhood paladins and sentinels.

“Hey, you!” One of the sentinels yelled.

John stopped and smiled at the sentinel who now removed her helmet, he recognized her immediately, and the scar she had across her forehead and nose made his smile wider.

“Sentinel. What can I help you with?”

“Remove those sunglasses.”

“That’s an odd request,” John said, but removed them none the less. Pinkerton had not had any pairs of irises laying around, so he had fixed one broken one he had lying about, and taken one from one of the dogs. As a favor, he had even removed John’s large facial scar. John blinked, his odd-colored eyes stared back at Sarah Lyons. “Miss? Will there be anything else? I have ammo for that laser rifle of yours.”

Sarah squinted her eyes and nodded. “I’m good.”

“Very well,” John shrugged.

“You haven’t by any chance met this man on your travels?” Sarah held up a picture of Kaidan, much younger and starry eyed than when John had seen him last.

“No, can’t say I have,” John smiled politely.

“Sarah, come on,” Another brotherhood sentinel said placing a hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “You’re seeing ghosts, and Alenko is probably dead and buried.”

Sarah sighed and nodded, “Safe travels.”

“Thank you,” John said and pulled the Brahmin to get moving.

-*-

After a little while out in the wasteland, John kept returning to the incident with Sarah, and he started to wonder if Kaidan was okay, since she was obviously still looking for him. The Pitt was pretty safe, but spies could be found everywhere, people whose conscience could be bought for a couple of caps. And in the end, he just made a beeline for the Pitt, it wasn’t like Kaidan had to know he was there, he’d just ask around and leave.

He left his Brahmin in Ramsey’s care, paid him pretty handsomely too. He bought his pack and his dogs. The dogs whining at what was in the backpack and John hushing them.

-*-

[It had been a small settlement, and John shifted through the burned out structure beams and trash to find something of value, he found a toy car. He stood in the burned down settlement and stared at the little blue car, he turned and kicked up some rubble, finding a red ball. There had been children here, he frowned. He almost jumped in surprise as Dog was barking at him and running in a weird circle. “What?” he asked. Dog just barked and ran a little further off. John shrugged and went with the dog. And now he heard it too, the noise that drove the dogs nuts, it was whining. Not a human baby, no didn’t sound like a child. He started to look everywhere till he found what he was looking for.

It was a tiny puppy.

It had escaped the fire, the raiders and possibly predators. “Hey there little guy.” John stroked the puppy, “Let’s find you something to eat and drink, huh.”]

-*-

John walked across the square, fully intending to just ask one of the guards about Kaidan’s whereabouts; but to his surprise Kaidan was outside, barking orders at other raiders. At least he thought it was Kaidan, it was the blue power armor.

Well, he thought, he’d come to see if Kaidan was alright and he seemed fine. He turned, thinking he should leave before anyone noticed him.

“Hey, Tin-man!” Krenshaw yelled. “Fancy seeing you here.”

John squared his shoulders and walked over. “Krenshaw.” He said with a polite smile, “I am here on business. Trying to sell some surplus stuff from my stock,” John said. “Would you be interested in a silencer for your handgun? I think I have a couple for that type.”

Krenshaw laughed. “Not here to see the Major?”

“Major?”

“Alenko.”

“Ah, not really.” John lied, “But I thought I’d pop in now that I was in this cesspool anyway.”

Krenshaw nodded. “Alenko! Someone to see you!” He walked over towards Kaidan, leaving John standing there feeling like an idiot.

Kaidan looked up and saw John, he shook his head annoyed and walked over towards the man and his dogs. “I thought you said you’d never be back, and I’d never buy you a beer.”

“Yeah,” John shrugged. “I came to tell you that I ran into Sarah, she is still looking for you. So be careful.”

“What? How? You saw her?” Kaidan’s all business façade gave way to worry. “What happened?”

“Nothing,” John said calmly. “She showed me a picture of you, and asked me if I had seen you.” John adjusted his large heavy scarf around his neck. “Thought I’d warn you. Even if her mates seemed to mostly think she was mad, so maybe it’s nothing. All I’m saying is don’t underestimate her.”

“She didn’t recognize you?” Kaidan asked perplexed.

“No,” John shook his head, slowly he took off his aviators. “Not quite blue, but better than before,” he said staring with his mismatched eyes at Kaidan.

Kaidan blinked, “Where’s your scar?”

“Had the plumber remove it,” John said with a hard, sarcastic tone.

“John, don’t,” Kaidan sounded bordering to begging, and John wasn’t sure why.

“Fine,” John sighed. “Pinkerton removed it as a favor. I think it was mostly because he felt sorta guilty that he didn’t have any spare parts for me.” John scratched one of his dogs behind the ear. “Dog had to offer up one for it to be a pair.”

Kaidan looked down at the one eyed dog. Instead of steel blue it had a weird milky white eye. “I’m glad it worked.”

“I still have that upgraded rifle magazine if you’re interested, I’d sell it cheap for you,” John smiled. “Friends and family discount and whatnot.”

Kaidan rose a brow.

“What? I’m a trader, it’s what I do,” John said, but was cut off as his backpack barked, both dogs sniffed the back and whined. One dog barked playfully back.

“Alright,” John sighed and wrestled himself out of his backpack and put it down, undoing the string and straps to let out a little chocolate brown puppy.

“His name is Monty,” John said as the puppy sat down and peed right on the spot.

“Monty?” Kaidan laughed, “I’m surprised he’s not Dog too.”

“I found him close to the Montgomery Reservoir,” John said as he fished out a small piece of dried meat from his inner pocket and gave to Monty.

Kaidan kneeled down in his power armor and twisted his gauntlet off to let the puppy smell his hand.

“He’s cute,” Kaidan said.

“I think he used to belong to some settlers, but they aren’t around anymore. Or, maybe they fled without him, I don’t know,” John said, studying Kaidan and the puppy. The puppy bit Kaidan’s finger and tugged on it playfully, and Kaidan just smiled.

“He’s lucky you found him,” Kaidan said as he slowly looked up at John’s mismatched eyes.

“Maybe.” John said softly. “Maybe he should stay here with you.” He licked his lips nervously, “After all, he is not like me and the dogs. He’s like you.”

Kaidan looked over at the one-eyed dog next to John’s shoulder and back at John.

“I didn’t know your dogs were organic androids.”

“Synths,” John said with a little smile. “I learned that is the correct term for us.”

Kaidan looked down at Monty who was now chasing his own tiny tail, falling over his feet in the process. “I don’t know…”

“I’m not giving you another gift, if that is what you are worried about.” John stated. “I’m giving Monty a gift, and that gift is a long happy and safe life with you.” John thought that he was past all his heartache, he thought he had screamed it out in the wastelands, the months he thought he was losing his mind. But his heart did an odd little flip when he said those words, none the less. “So what do you say?”

Kaidan picked up the puppy and cradled it to his chest, Monty didn’t seem to mind the cold steel of the power armor and yawned. “Are you sure?”

“I’m never sure. But, everyone needs a friend; you, me, Monty, hell even Krenshaw.” He smiled, hoping it didn’t look to weird and fake. He pet the now sleeping puppy in Kaidan’s arm. “Take good care of him,” he whispered, and then looked up at Kaidan. “And you too.”

“I will.” Kaidan vowed.

John smiled and picked up his backpack and put the aviators on again. “No rest for the wicked, I have to get going and sell some stuff to drunk people who don’t know what they’re buying.” He laughed softly.

Kaidan laughed too, “Hey when you come back, let me take you out for that beer.”

“You got it. ‘Till then.” He snapped his fingers and the dogs slowly waded after him, looking slightly confused at leaving the puppy behind. “Oh stop it you two, I’ll buy you an iguana on a stick if you shut up.”

John turned around and saw Kaidan still standing where he left him, he waved a little awkwardly, and Kaidan waved back. Yeah, it had all turned out like he wanted it to. That puppy had always been Kaidan’s, he couldn’t put his finger on why, but it was finding Monty that had made him sure he had to return. Like a furry little olive branch.

He and Kaidan might never be more than friends, but he was okay with that. Friends was better than heartache, and he’d come back and remind Kaidan of that beer, and take it from there. Whatever happened, he wouldn’t have to live out his eternity with a Kaidan shaped hole in it yet.

That time would come eventually, but it was not today.

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