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[personal profile] squirrellysemantics
Title: Smell the sea and feel the sky
Fandom: mass effect, post ME3 
Rating: NC17
Pairing: male Shepard/Kaidan Alenko
All characters are property of Bioware, for what good they've done with them

Summary: Everyone deserves a happy ending.  Everyone

A little post ME3 catharsis before the extended cut comes out.

 

Color and life was what Kaidan needed, what he’d been hoping more than anything today. Not for him, though.

Well… not just for him.

Kaidan took it all in, gentle trade winds that soothed what could have been a tortuous Hawaiian heat, mellowing it until his skin welcomed the sun. An innocent breeze kept at it, toying with each palm tree in an ancient game, unconcerned by the troubles of those that passed through it. Earth bore its scars after the invasion but few were if any were here-

On the surface, at least.

Oceans were a chance to cleanse the eschar away, clear out the dreams that kept memories raw and painful, festering like an open wound. He’d had enough restless nights full of hollowed out buildings with air so thick with dust that it made you choke. Hour running into hour without end, searching for those crying out for help through the darkness until the day came and went when there were no more cries to be heard. Reminded time after time that he kept searching, turning over every pile, upending every heap in the wreck that was London. There’d been no food but ash leaving its taste on his tongue, smoke sticking to his skin no matter how hard he tried to scrape it off.

He’d told Shepard he’d fight like hell to hold him again and he damn well meant it.

Then by the grace of whatever god watched over boneheaded grunts, Kaidan found him, found Shepard in as many broken pieces as the city around him, but alive, damn it. Alive when Kaidan thought he’d been looking for a corpse all that time. No time for joy before there was an evac and doctors, the stink of antiseptic, cold, sterile tile on every wall. Machines whirred and pinged, for weeks the only sign that the man who’d given everything was still with him.

It was the little milestones that were the easiest to remember, after that. Eyes opening, clear and aware. ‘Thirsty’. Those first few steps under his own power. The road to recovery was long, full of wrong turns and stumbles but there was progress. Months passed but the day finally came.

Shepard could come home.

But there wasn’t really anywhere to call home.

The minute the doctors gave the all clear, Kaidan made a few calls. Time to rally.

He’d come to this place before with a need to heal, a much younger Kaidan on the cusp of manhood with nothing but a broken heart and blood on his hands. Here he was again, tasting brine on the air. He’d had changed and so had the circumstances, but the island remained much the same and that’s what why he chose to bring them here.

Kaidan moved away from the balcony, snatching up a spare towel to add it to his bag alongside its twin. His duffel had seen better days but it was still more than up to the task, tattered and battered but showing little signs of straining under its burden though it was a crisscross of neatly mended tears.

A sudden burst of butterfly panic had him undoing all of his careful packing to find his communicator in blind desperation. Normally, he hated the thing, but today it would be his best friend.

If the Alliance came calling, they could go hang for all he cared. Shepard and he had something much more important to do.

His nerves brought out a laugh. Tonight was supposed to be an ordinary thing, a natural progression, but since when had anything involving Shepard ever been ordinary?

Ah- there it was, the blasted thing. It chirped for him like a faithful, god-damned annoying pet. Alarm set? Good. It would take them- what, twenty, thirty minutes to get there from here? Leave a little extra to get themselves presentable before it was go-time and-

A voice from over his shoulder. “You ready?”

Good question.

Kaidan looked up at the one who asked it of him, not at all surprised that even now, Shepard left him tongue-tied.

Relief and concern came as they always recently at how pale Shepard still was, though it was eased somewhat by the lean muscle finally returning to smooth the sharp planes of his face. There was finally some substance to the man, one shoulder filling its frame with the bulk he’d worked hard to put back on. His newest set of scars still came off as shiny and pink, contrasting with the sunglasses that perched atop his head as if they’d always been there.

Shepard was ready. More than ready by the look of the swim trunks sitting low on his hips, impossible to miss in their horrid shade of lemon yellow with a pattern of purple hibiscus in a trail down one thigh.

Suited him better than that thin hospital gown and that made it just fine.

This was their chance to create some small happiness. Didn’t matter one iota that it came wrapped up in a damn ugly swimsuit.

Was he ready?

His answer would never be anything different. “Always.”

Off they went.

----------

Patches of shade knit together by palm trees made a neat little enclave perfect for crashing. Kaidan lay claim to it by tossing down his duffel. There was an intriguing clink of glass from Shepard’s satchel as he did the same, its contents remaining a closely guarded secret.

Waves crashed into sand and stone, a siren’s call for the beginnings of a beautiful day.

Tranquility didn’t last long.

Hurricane Vega came at them on an approach vector at full speed, sand flying in his wake as he ran up with a short board tucked under one arm. “Mornin’, sirs!”

Just a few hours in the sun and surf already left him a red, peeling mess. “This place is freakin’ awesome, Major! Thanks for hookin’ us up!”

Kaidan toed off his sandals, luxuriating in the sand beneath his toes. “No problem, Vega. I think we all needed the break.”

James’s whole body bobbed in agreement. “Damn straight, though the ladies hit the North Shore way too freakin’ early. Need my beauty sleep, y’know?”

A wicked smirk appeared on his broad, young face. “You guys seen Turkey anywhere?”

Kaidan got rid of his shirt next, using it to hide his half smile, letting the heat of the day soak into his bones. “Y’know, Garrus really doesn’t appreciate you calling him Turk- shit!“

Bare skin on the small of his back was the target of something icy and cold and dripping wet that sent a jolt all the way to his teeth. Reflexes were good enough to catch Shepard looking none too innocent, hastily withdrawing a glass bottle filled with something bubbling with promise.

“Sorry,” said Shepard, though it was clear that none of that apology was for Kaidan. “Haven’t seen him.”

“Figures he’d disappear.” Vega popped out a brash smile bright as the sun. “Right when I was gonna show his bony little ass how the big boys pull into a closeout barrel.”

“What is this fascination with my ass, Vega?”

A tall, slender shadow spilled across the sand and Garrus was in no particular hurry to join them, the board he carried looking like a child’s toy by comparison. “I know it’s impressive but at least try to stop working it into every conversation.”

Vega danced on the balls of his feet. “Nice of you to join us, Turkey.” He threw a meaty thumb at the surf breaking over his shoulder. “Thought the height of those waves was too much for your little birdie brain.”

There was a twitch of amusement in one set of mandibles but Garrus quickly recovered. “My little old grandma was kicking krogan butt when yours was still trapped down here flinging feces at your grandpa, monkey boy. I think I can handle getting a little wet.”

Vega let out a whoop of delight, already sprinting towards the ocean. “Let’s go, then! Scrub some rust off of a those metal undies!”

The sigh from Garrus was one of profound suffering. “Kid’s got a good heart but if he keeps this up, he’s getting a kick right to the hemipenes.”

His exasperation evaporated as he sized up the half-healed man before him. “It’s… good to see you, Shepard.”

Hiding behind those dark sunglasses made Shepard as inscrutable as ever, but there was a softness to the line of his shoulders that would only ever be picked up by those who knew him best. “It’s good to be here, Garrus.”

C’mon, Turkey! Turnin’ chicken!?” The turbulent break was loud but nowhere near loud enough to drown out Vega and the sound of clucking.

Mandibles flickered again. “If you don’t hear from us in a couple of hours-” Long strides started the turian on his way. “Don’t come looking. I’ll need extra time to bury the body.”

With distractions gone, Shepard offered the bottle again, this time minus the icy torture. Kaidan claimed his beer more than eagerly.

“Couldn’t find anything Canadian,” Shepard murmured softly between them, hand reaching for the spot he’d abused moments before.

Canadian or not, right now lager was lager, burst of liquid cool and crisp flavor, the right amount of bite on Kaidan’s tongue. This and the gentle touch along his spine made all his worries melt away.

---------------------

Claiming beach chairs after a bit of a swim was the richest of luxuries . How long had they been out there? Kaidan squinted into the horizon. Only the sun seemed to know what time it was, powering down right along with them as it slowly dipped to meet the sea.

There was no agenda for the day. No investigations. No missions.

Well, maybe one mission.

The savior of the galaxy wanted a drink with an umbrella in it.

Kaidan wanted out on this one solo, ready to force the man still in recovery to rest under threat of violence but there was little need for that, Shepard already nodding off under the warm blanket of a perfect afternoon.

The bartender he found knew precisely who had dropped anchor at her shore and overloaded Kaidan with two colorful concoctions and the promise of more. Their sheer volume moved beyond the scope of something at all reasonable for anyone to consume in one sitting, heading straight towards the proper size to make several goldfish extremely happy. His offer of credits was refused and Kaidan made his way back to Shepard with caution, weighed down with a metric ton of booze garnished with fruit and one very essential paper umbrella.

Kaidan hummed as the cook breeze kicked up again, soothing his overheated skin. Its price was to give his hair a life of its own, embarking him on a new career as an unkempt hedge. A morning in the ocean had freed a bit of his natural curl, a few strays drying faster than the rest to dance across his face and their goal was to bug the ever-loving crap out of him.

No number of facial contortions would save him but Kaidan kept on. One curl was determined to get its revenge for years of abuse, pushing the risk of drink spillage into the red zone with a few pokes to the eyeball and he puffed at it like a freight train to blast the nuisance from his face.

Marines didn’t take kindly to wasted alcohol.

“We’ll be drinking these things for a week,” he murmured to himself, carefully trying to reclaim his seat without losing a drop. “Which isn’t such a bad idea, now that I think about it.”

“Need a little help?”

“No, no,” Kaidan answered as he set his trophies down, not quite needing Shepard as his savior for this. “I got it-“

Higher reasoning completely derailed at the touch of a thumb to his temple. There wasn’t any beach, any sun, any sand - only Shepard taking the greatest care, fingers softly carding through the wilderness to tame that damn curl that didn’t listen one whit to Kaidan.

Shepard followed a pattern, fingertips following the curve of an ear and Kaidan was helpless, hopelessly gone, unable to do more than lean into the caress.

Most people got plenty of time to write the story of their lives. Some chance meeting, meet up for small talk and coffee. A stroll down the block or catching a movie together on the couch. Most people got to have these quiet moments.

They were not most people.

So many little things that came with falling in love. Little things that they had to miss, forced to skip past it by duty and war and the rush to the end. Whole pages of their story stolen by time and fate.

Neither of them wanted to think about how close they came to never filling those chapters in.

Getting lost in the touch was easy with Shepard brining his intensity to bear in this gentle exploration, so determined on capturing Kaidan by feel alone. This was as far as they’d gone since the hospital, intimacy as chaste as Shepard’s healing needed it to be, but Shepard always pushed both of their limits.

It went on this way for some time, Kaidan simply watching as Shepard committed his features to memory, as if assuring himself that they were both still here, still real.

Maybe that was exactly what was happening.

If they were to ask each other later, neither would remember who was the first to give in but from one moment to the next there was no longer room between them.

A kiss. Such a plain and uncomplicated thing, so easily taken for granted. Kaidan couldn’t get enough of them now, not when they’d had to share them so sparingly. There’d never been a chance for anything without urgency, anything without the weight of the galaxy sitting squarely on their shoulders.

That urgency was gone, replaced by a need of another kind, the need to find out what Shepard tasted like with his lips chapped from the sun. Not in any hurry, Kaidan took his time finding out. A fact finding mission. Kaidan had questions and he demanded answers. So did Shepard, who rebutted with questions of his own. This freedom, this luxury was so new, so unfamiliar.

And worth savoring, so they damn well did.

A loud squeal reminded them that time was indeed passing. Melted ice brought their forgotten drinks to near overflowing confirmed it.

They turned together to find the source of the disturbance, squinting into the horizon to see the sun much closer to the end of its daily efforts than either of them remembered. Another artificial squeal came from a lone, lanky figure pacing the length of the beach.

“Find anything good, Mordin?” Kaidan called out loudly, though there wasn’t much of anything on the planet louder than the salarian’s choice of clothing. Not many could pull of an electric pink aloha shirt.

Nor would they want to.

“Mollusk shell composition analysis still in progress.” Mordin was at top speed, working his omni-tool like a concert violinist until it squawked again for him . “Forms highly complex, predominantly calcareous in origin yet with high degree of speciation. Intriguing. Earth’s biodiversity has always been fascinating. Will take considerable time to vet out all hypotheses.”

Shepard cocked his head, pursing his lips in that way Kaidan found so damn distracting. “So that would be a ‘no’.”

“Not necessarily, Shepard,” Mordin countered, spiraling in on something mysterious in a tight search pattern. “Other opportunities for research have presented themselves. Studying variability in landform substrate composition. ”

The omni-tool shrieked with a horrific finality and the alien was on his knees, picking through the sand, looking far too much like the black winged stilts searching the beach alongside him. .

“Aha!”

Mordin held up his find in triumph, eyes narrowing as he brought in the small disk for closer study.

“Small, crimped section of metal. Presumptively aluminum. Artwork on the concave aspect profoundly faded. Most likely due to prolonged exposure to solar radiation at this latitude. Shape suggests its purpose is one of containment.”

“It’s called a ‘bottle cap’, Mordin,” Shepard supplied for him, amusement tugging at one side of his mouth for a moment that was short and all to fleeting. Easy to miss if Kaidan hadn’t been looking, but to be honest, he was always looking.

“Yes,” Mordin continued to himself, turning the cap in all directions. “Fascinating design. Elegant synthesis of simplicity and functionality. Must collect more for study.”

Kaidan tried not to crack a smile. “I’m sure you’ll find plenty of ‘em.”

Mordin brightened, pupils widening until they threatened to take over his face. “Really?”

“Yup.” There was a sage nod from Shepard. “I’m sure there’s a bunch over there.” He threw out an arm, giving a vague wave into the distance. “Way, way over there.”

“Excellent!” The salarian was already off at a clip, birds scattering in his wake. “Shall keep you apprised of the situation!”

“You do that,” Shepard added much too quietly to be of use to anyone.“Now. Where were we?”

Kaidan was ready with the answer to that one and the feel of Shepard smiling against him something he would have to make sure happened again and again.

The plan was to keep it chaste but that was damn near impossible with Shepard lapping at a line of sea salt dried to a thin crust along Kaidan’s jaw. He countered, capturing an earlobe between his teeth. Breaths sharpened to a jagged edge that threatened to cut restraint to ribbons.

A chirp from a very dutiful communicator doused that fire real quick.

Tearing himself away, Kaidan eased back into his chair, nerves from this morning coming back with a vengeance. “It’s almost dinnertime.”

That shouldn’t have sounded as ominous as it did but the news had two soldiers recovering their abandoned drinks to take a long pull.

The jolt of cold sugar and alcohol became a compulsion for Kaidan and he sucked down another helping from his fish habitat. “We’ve got this. It’s time,” he stated with firm confidence but he felt none of it. “You ready?”

Shepard was all fierce fortitude, though this was sharply belayed by him sipping through a twisty straw. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

This was more than worth a smile. Kaidan rose, bracing himself by stealing one last kiss. “C’mon. Let’s go tidy up.”

-------------------------------

Kahana Valley was a little outside the main tourist drag but Kaidan knew the way. The mountains knew him too, still welcoming, vibrant and green, hugging the modest home hidden within it as if it was a secret the trees wanted to keep all for themselves.

“My cousins help run one of the big pineapple groves out here and the house came with the land,” Kaidan said softly, pulling their vehicle into the final turn, his heart trying to beat a frantic escape from his chest. “Became sort of a guest house. Family came out here a lot growing up.”

Shepard studied every bit of the lush jungle, unable to look away. “It’s beautiful.”

The small affirmation had Kaidan letting out a long, slow breath he knew he’d been holding for way too long. “My parents’ place in Vancouver was a total loss so once the smoke cleared, they ended up here. Rebuilding is slow going when everyone’s doing the same thing. I don’t know. I’ve only got to talk to them over vid com since after the attacks. Maybe this is where they’ll end up. Dad retired for good this time but he’s picked up a side gig helping out the park rangers. Med school on the island roped Mom back into teaching again. Nothing full-time, but still-

A consoling hand fell across his thigh.

“I know, Kaidan.” Shepard watched him carefully. “I know because you’ve told me this five times since lunch. I never had parents to bring anyone home to but I’m sure it’s going to be fine.”

That touch was just the thing to steady him and Kaidan trapped the hand against his thigh to feed off the calm.

Everyone thought that whole finding-someone- falling-in-love thing was the hard part. Shit, that was easy. It what came after that was hard. Sharing your life with someone meant sharing your life and you never remember that you are more than the sum of their parts.

This was only another part of their story though, wasn’t it? Another chapter that needed writing. No big deal, right?

Right.

Kaidan swallowed a big ball of worry. “I’m sorry. Not like we’re facing down a horde of husks or anything but you’re meeting my family.” Every doubt, every fear real or imagined tried to climb their way out. “The first time either of us get to see them since everything went to hell. First time they get to meet you ever. No messages, no video. Live and in person.”

Shepard threw a smile his way. “I’ll be on my best behavior.”

A laugh forced its way out of Kaidan, his nerves flaring up as he brought their car to a halt. “It’s not your behavior I’m worried about.”

That was the heart of it, wasn’t it?

The man he wanted to spend the rest of his life with was going to meet those who knew him best.

Or knew his worst.

It didn’t matter how old you were or how much you’d accomplished- family was family and facing down a bunch of Reapers didn’t mean jack shit when stacked against that time you set the carpet on fire with your uncle’s omni-tool when you were eight.

Kaidan loved Shepard, loved his family. The idea of bringing them together became a black hole of what if, what if, what if-

What if they didn’t get along? What if they couldn’t stand the sight of each other?

Having come this far, survived so much and in the end be forced to choose between them-

The possibility was too terrible to contemplate.

“My parents… don’t pull any punches.” Kaidan waded in hip deep into his warning, this time firmly holding Shepard’s gaze though there was no way to know what the other was thinking. “And they’re not afraid of anything.”

“So…” Shepard didn’t shy away. “They’re like you?”

Shepard hit the latch, sliding easily out of the passenger side. “I wouldn’t want anything different.”

So casual, so offhand that it couldn’t have been anything but the truth and Shepard managed to give Kaidan precisely what he didn’t know he wanted all along.

The house was just as Kaidan remembered it, though the door looked like it had a new coat of paint slapped on it. Dad must have been bored. A single press of the call button and the door swept open for him and there it was- that smell that he would always know.

Sweet and sugar and everything that was good in this world, fresh butter tarts just ready to come out of the oven and it didn’t matter where in the world they were because this was home.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Kaidan!”

More strands of silver among the black than he remembered but her hair ran down her back in its usual messy braid. As an adult, it always struck him how tiny she was. Not frail, though. Never frail.

Her arms weren’t long enough to meet around his middle since that growth spurt he had in middle school but she threw them around him anyway.

“Missed you!” Her words were muffled by her burrowing into him as high as she could reach and Kaidan paid her back with a soft kiss to the crown.

She detached herself from his chest to make a mess of her face with a swipe of one sleeve. “Come in! Come in!” she coaxed though she refused to fully let her son go. “You’re so pale. Getting enough sleep? You taking care of yourself? I’ve seen you on news feeds. Oof, it only takes you saving the for those idiot reporters to spell your name right-“

Aaand… here we go. “Mom…”

“Goodness, is that him?” she demanded as if Shepard was not standing precisely two feet away. “So handsome! Vids don’t do him justice, but he’s so skinny! Do they not feed anyone in Alliance hospitals these days? You should take better care of him-”

“Mom!”

“Your father’s been in the kitchen all day, but the rangers called him in. Some haole is missing out on the trail to Ohulehule again. You’d think this day and age, people would learn to not get lost! Remind me to check the oven in ten minutes or he’ll be furious! Well, as furious as he ever gets-”

This train was going to be hard to stop. Kaidan put up a hand but this slowed her down not at all.

“Goodness, I almost didn’t make it home on time,” she continued without pause for breath. “You know those first years! Think they know everything but they don’t know their own rear from a hole in the ground!”

Mom!”

The woman who brought Kaidan into this world, the rock who’d sent her husband and son off to an impossible war, burst into fresh tears. “I thought I lost your father-“

There was a shake to her hands as she brought them to his face, searching for assurance that he was real. “I thought I’d lost you too-”

Major Kaidan Alenko, the second human Spectre, wept quietly along with her, hugging her to him as tightly as he dared. “We’re here now. We’re safe.”

He turned, his mother turning with him, and they clung to each other in a stalwart refusal to let go. Blurry eyed, he looked to Shepard and for the first time in all the years Kaidan knew him, Shepard held himself with uncertainty, far from sure what next to do.

Kaidan knew.

“Mom, I’d like you to meet the man who made it that way.”

His mother’s words were a muffled mess into Kaidan’s chest. “A pleasure to meet you.”

Shepard held himself a little straighter, standing tall with shoulders back, offering respect the only way an old soldier knew how, his eyes rimmed red around the edges. “Likewise, ma’am. I couldn’t have done any of it without your son at my side.”

A whiff of something on the edge of burning stemmed the tide for everyone and there was a mad dash by his mother to rescue her husband’s hard work. “Oh, no!”

Shepard was at Kaidan’s elbow and they fit together at the hip. A nudge between them was more comfort than any amount of words could hope to hold they moved onwards to brave the kitchen.

For all of his mother’s worry, only one of the tarts had suffered any ill effect but she fussed over them all the same, tossing pans this way and that.

Shepard looked far more comfortable handling something tangible. “Let me help you with that, Mrs Alenko-“ He reached to take the pyramid of dishes from her.

His mother fixed Earth’s Hero a glare that teenage Kaidan knew far too well. “What do you think you’re doing? You are a guest in our home and I will not have you lift one finger while you’re here! Not one more word saying otherwise, is that clear?”

“I…uh… yes, ma’am.” Shepard blinked a bit and beat a hasty retreat to the living room.

Kaidan kept himself bundled up tight, luxuriating in that rare discomfiture just a teeny, tiny bit. The jab between his shoulder blades put an end to that real quick.

“You too! Out! Out!” his mother said, her tiny frame muscling his bulk in the direction she wished it to go. “Now get!”

Shepard took the couch stiffly, a little shell-shocked. “We should have gotten your mom to go after Harbinger,” he murmured, soft enough for Kaidan’s ears only. “He would have cancelled that whole invasion thing on day one.”

“My bad,” Kaidan supplied in all seriousness, slumping into a chair opposite the other man. “Should have said something sooner.” Simply catching each other’s eye had them melting into laughter.

The clatter of dishes ceased and the mother that Kaidan knew best emerged, confident and self-assured. “Your father just called! He’ll be back shortly.”

She sailed through the living room, approaching them with her battered, scuffed up tablet in hand.

Shepard shifted over, accommodating the small woman as she planted herself alongside him.

Mom brought the screen of her tablet to life, her fingers dancing over the surface as she searched for something. “I must show you the rest of our family while we’re waiting!”

A snapshot popped up, revealing a wealth of smiling faces. “Here’s all of the cousins together at our last reunion!”

She went very still, grief burning brightly for a moment as she traced the features that looked back at her one by one. “We lost Akemi and Stephen during the first attack on the Citadel. The invasion took Katherine and Fedir and the house is gone, but in the end, we were luckier than most.”

The next picture turned her sadness into joy. “Here’s Kaidan on the day he finished officer candidate school,” she said softly and there he was, spit shined and newly minted as a Marine, wholly unaware of what was to come. “I’d never seen his father so proud! A son of an NCO making first lieutenant-”

Kaidan sat back in his chair, taking in two people he cared about more than anything in this world, as they sat and smiled, heads bowed together in accord.

Some moments were disposable, passed in an instant, transient and forgettable. Some were just as fleeting but would warm you on the coldest of days.

He bundled up this memory tight, secreting it away like the treasure that it was.

His mother moved on, the whole of her lighting up in delight. “These are from that time we came here on vacation when you were eleven. You always loved sleeping outside when the weather was good enough-“

That should have been Kaidan’s first warning.

Album after album flew past as his mom searched for something specific. She laid a hand on Shepard’s arm, her eagerness barely in check. “He was the cutest baby! Let me show you-”

This was the second.

He was up on his feet in desperation, not liking any of this. “You don’t want to bore him with those, do you, Mom? Can I get you guys anything to drink?”

“I’m all set,” Shepard answered quickly, flashing Kaidan that smile that hinted at very, very bad things. “You were saying, Mrs Alenko?”

“He was such a little flirt, I’ll tell you!” Her enthusiasm quickly bubbled over. “Charmed plenty of sweets off of anyone who met him.”

“You sure you don’t need anything?” Kaidan tried again, edging towards his only exit. For all that was holy, he had to keep trying.

His mother didn’t bother looking up. “We’re fine, dear. Help yourself if you need anything. Oh! And here’s his fourth birthday party-“

Oh, shit.

“I’ll just be in the kitchen-“ Kaidan began, backpedaling towards his only exit with as much composure as he could muster.

Shepard was too enrapt to hear a damn thing. “Did…did he not wear any clothes that day?”

“Goodness, no. Couldn’t keep anything on that boy if you tried,” his mother supplied helpfully. “Put some underpants on him and they’d be off as soon as you turned around. Liked to run around visiting all of our neighbors naked as a jaybird. Took a while, but finally put a stop to it when he started preschool-“

“Trying to kill myself,” Kaidan finished softly to absolutely no one, alone amongst the cupboards.

How quietly could he climb out a window? It had been a while since the last time but it was worth a try. Maybe they wouldn’t notice-

The front door creaked open and Kaidan got his reprieve.

People always told Kaidan how much he took after his father but he’d never seen it, not until now, after all these years with him shocked into silence, staring into what would be in his mirror twenty years from now. His reflection looked back at him, smudged with dirt but greyer, older, wiser.

Weariness lined his father’s face, exhaustion slowing his thoughts and you could see the slow trickle of realization coming over him as to who was in his home.

Shepard was quick- on his feet, heels together, snapping to his crispest salute. It felt right, it felt proper for Kaidan to do the same and in two strides he was at Shepard’s side, matching eyes front, chin out with his hand pressed to his brow.

His father reacted on instinct, a duffel bag more ancient and tattered than Kaidan’s own falling from his loose fingers as he responded with a salute in kind.

“Sir!” Shepard barked out as if this gunnery chief was admiral of the whole damn fleet. “An honor to meet you, sir!”

Kaidan thought his next words impossible much less that he would ever think them but this is where he saw his dad falter. The man who picked him up and dusted him off after every scraped knee, who rejoiced with every triumph and shared in every sorrow- the man who helped make him what he was crumbled, embraced his son with big, broken sobs that tore Kaidan’s heart in two.

Unabashed and unashamed, his father offered Shepard a hand, which Shepard gladly took.

“You will always be welcome here,” his father said with a waver in his voice and in six words, Shepard had a family just like that.

_______________________

Dinner had been simple and filling and the best damn food on the planet, but now Kaidan had another mission. He let the moonlight guide him through the forest, the lure of what he knew was ahead pulling him onwards. “C’mon,” he said. “We can set up down here.”

Shepard followed, damn near fit to bursting with butter tarts but still neatly side stepping an enormous banyan root, the parent tree big enough that it looked like it was holding up the sky. “Isn’t the beach the other way?”

“Yeah,” Kaidan conceded, a smile peeking through. “But you said you liked the idea of sleeping outdoors and sand has a funny way of getting into places sand ought not to go. And then there’s the centipedes-“

That got Shepard’s attention-the worried kind. “Centipedes?”

“Really big ones,” Kaidan confirmed. “They’re no thresher maw but they’ve got a bite so nasty, it’d make a krogan run home crying like a little baby.” He tapped at the bag attached to his hip. “That’s why I have this.”

Here it was- the grove he was looking for, just as he left it so many years ago. A few ropes, a few carabiners and he unfurled his old hammock, the proper way of setting it up returning to him as if he was slipping into a familiar set of armor, which in a way, it was.

Shepard regarded the final product with a healthy dose of skepticism, the length of nylon looking more like a flag in the breeze. “You sure this thing will hold us both?”

Kaidan eased into the hammock sideways, setting it in motion like a giant swing. “Pretty sure. I used to abuse the hell out of this thing when I was a kid. Let’s find out for sure.”

Trees complained about their combined weight but his knots held and the two men were side-by-side, the natural hang of the hammock bringing them closer than they already were until they ended up bundled nearly atop each other, their legs tangling, dangling over the edge into nothing.

They turned their eyes upwards, leaves and life framing their night sky.

“Haven’t seen those stars in a while,” Kaidan murmured and there was a low murmur of agreement.

This was what drew Kaidan here, this perfect joining. This place where the earth embraced, its ancient trees cradled and one single, solitary person could feel one with the whole of the earth and the stars above. That you were the audience for the show the universe put on for you alone.

But this time, Kaidan was not alone.

They called out constellations they knew and made up names for the ones they didn’t, the after effects of dinner making them both sleepier than either would care to admit. Turning in the little hammock was an awkward mess, and Shepard hopped out to avoid any broken noses. The moon had finished for the evening, making it impossible to see, but Kaidan called Shepard back to him once the rearranging was done.

Shepard returned, the bulk of him sliding smoothly alongside, his back pressing to Kaidan but there was a lot more skin gliding against him than Kaidan remembered, and that wasn’t exactly a detail he’d miss.

Kaidan set his hands to roaming, more than happy to investigate this further. “You had clothes on earlier, right? I’m pretty sure my mom would have mentioned if you hadn’t.“

“Thought I’d make you feel more at home,” was Shepard’s answer, his legs parting slightly to make Kaidan feel more at home there, too. “If I’d known about that whole ‘running around naked’ thing, I’d have made the Normandy a lot more clothing optional.”

That earned a squeeze to Shepard’s thigh that he minded not in the slightest.

“That doesn’t sound like a good idea.” Kaidan caught up an earlobe with his teeth, trapping it to flick it with his tongue. “We’d have never gotten anything done.”

“That’s what multitasking is for.” Shepard’s impatience was plain in the rough tugs to Kaidan’s shirt. “You’re overdressed. You should do something about that.”

“Yes sir.”

And Kaidan did indeed do something about that, did it quickly too, swimming in nylon to kick his clothes away in double time.

He was very good at taking orders, especially ones like these.

God, it was good to feel Shepard against him, gravity making them fall together, protected from everything in this tiny cocoon in the darkness.

Kaidan didn’t need any light because he knew every mark, every mole, every freckle by heart and he took his tongue to them now, mapping the ones across Shepard’s back from memory. His favorite was the one next to the shoulder blade, quite a bit bigger than the rest, standing out like the brightest star on the chart. His tongue laved at it, playing at its edges and Shepard pressed into it.

There was squirming and Kaidan liked that, liked that a whole lot. His hands mapped Shepard everywhere he could reach and the man was lean and spare, muscle and sinew. Too many new scars, too many injuries that were barely healed but Kaidan added them to the catalogue too, all of it a permanent part of the man he loved and not to be ignored or hidden away. He kept to his task but Shepard couldn’t wait any longer it seemed and there were fingers in Kaidan’s hair, Shepard blindly reaching behind his shoulder to haul Kaidan up, clenched fist dragging Kaidan up by the roots to claim his mouth.

And claim he did. Shepard drew in Kaidan’s tongue, sucking on the tip, reaching past it to lap at the roof of Kaidan’s mouth and never did he stop moving, Shepard shifting against him with an insistent roll of his hips. Breathing became a footnote, only necessary out of obligation, but their need for air was already rough and ragged.

He had to pull away before he couldn’t anymore; Kaidan had to know. “I don’t want to…to push…if it’s too… we can-“

The tongue in his mouth made sure he had nothing more to say.

“I won’t break, Kaidan,” Shepard rumbled against him. “I’ll let you know when it’s time to stop, but that sure as hell won’t be any time soon.”

Such personality in a kiss. Where the last had been all about possession and want, this was tenderness and light. Well, for a brief moment, at any rate, before Shepard was again searching his lips.

Kaidan had to laugh but even that didn’t last with two of Shepard’s fingers probing his mouth, fingertips rough with calluses that by right would never go away. He took them in, his tongue cradling them, trapping them there as he sucked at them like they were the first meal he’d had in months.

He was ready to complain when Shepard took them away but they were gone, put to another use. There wasn’t a bit of light but Kaidan could feel and he could feel Shepard testing himself, preparing himself.

Good god, he might have exploded right there, but Shepard kept him busy with his other hand. Kaidan was more than happy to oblige, engulfing two more fingers to wet them down to the biggest knuckle, bobbing up and down with the promise of better things.

There was so much more Kaidan could be doing. Shepard had less length but more girth and he made for a solid weight in Kaidan’s hand. The motions Shepard made caused him to thrust into that grip and Kaidan made sure it was worth his while.

Preparations were done but that was only part of the story. Kaidan spat and spat again, slicking himself down, his cock ready and most certainly willing but it was Shepard who kept insisting, urging him onwards.

He found Shepard ready and open, just for him -all for him- and he did his own bit of claiming, biting at the juncture of neck and shoulder as the head of him slipped into a world of warmth.

Time. They had so much of it now. It had not been on their side before and to have it all laid out before them was a heady thing, but even with so much time, Kaidan wanted every second to count, every minute to matter. His hands steadied Shepard’s hips, denying them both the furious pace he knew would result without that restraint.

It took an eternity but Kaidan seated himself as far as he could go, thighs pressed to the curve of Shepard’s ass and there was nothing but heat and tight and the urge to move but he would not be rushed, not now, not today. Just as slowly, he drew back, nearly withdrawing completely before slowly, inch by aching inch, slotting himself home and the sighs from Shepard were a thing of beauty so he did it again.

And again.

And again.

And- damn it all, Shepard was already shaking against him and it left Kaidan a wreck. It would be so easy to go faster, rush to the end of the race, but this needed to last. Stubbornness was all he had left and he refused to let up, taking Shepard in hand again to stroke him with the same agonizing determination.

But Kaidan was only human and when Shepard threw one leg over his, fingers digging into Kaidan’s hip, sure to leave bruises with this clenching, this bearing down- it was more than anyone could hope to resist and any hope of measured restraint was left in tatters.

Shepard danced for him, thrusting this way and that, and in this there were no missed beats, no dropped tempo, no awkward motion, only his need driving them into a mad sway that had Kaidan moving in counterpoint. Kaidan found the rhythm, the syncopation that had Shepard grunting, calling, twitching for more. He could feel Shepard contract over, under and around him and Shepard twisted up a handful of hair, insisting on Kaidan’s mouth again, pouring every moan he had into Kaidan as he came.

The aftershocks were there. Kaidan was prepared, while Shepard was not, and Kaidan wrung another release from this man, this impossible man. Not as big nor as dramatic, but Shepard came again in a guttural, primal note from deep within his chest, his whole body whipcord tight, toes curling, legs quaking as it did him in.

That was more than enough for Kaidan and a few thrusts later, he went right over that same edge with his own legs shaking, biting down to leave a new mark on Shepard’s shoulder that Kaidan would have to revisit.

Content in so many ways, sleep was inescapable, but neither of them moved a hair, Shepard half gone already and Kaidan soft and sated but still buried where he most wanted to be.

Another chapter done, then, Kaidan thought as inertia began to claim him, with more yet to come.

What would the next part of the story bring? It didn’t matter- good or bad, really- because now they no longer walked alone.

 

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July 2012

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