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(Contains: violence/gore)


While it was comforting to learn that Shepard had spent his childhood and teenaged years living happily with a loving family, it only made the story of their deaths all the more heartbreaking.  And it was impossible for Kaidan not to feel strongly for him.  He had to fight back the anger at the unfairness of the whole situation, the tears that were threatening to fall as he realized just how much pain Shepard must have had to endure following these events – both physically and mentally.

If he'd thought earlier that certain things seemed to happen for a reason, it was suddenly very difficult for him to understand what reason there could ever be for such senseless loss.  What could ever justify a group of angry batarians kicking down the front door of the home of a peaceful workers' family, and gunning down every living soul inside of it, including the children?  How could anyone explain why a seventeen year old boy had been forced to watch and feel his beloved little sister die in his arms, powerless to prevent any of it from happening?

His survival had been nothing short of a miracle, especially considering the severity of the wounds he had sustained. Kaidan could easily conceive that for Shepard himself, it might have felt like something of a betrayal or punishment, rather than anything else.  He was impressed that he had found the will to go on at all.

"And you say that I am the strong one…" Kaidan whispered hoarsely, running the back of his hand gently against Shepard's cheek, voice filled with wonder.

It was sometimes hard to admit it to himself, but Kaidan knew that one of his greatest fears was to be rejected or abandoned by those closest to him – to the point where it had become difficult for him to let himself build close emotional relationship with others.  The fact that Marco Shepard had penetrated his defenses so easily had been surprising…  And the prospect of losing him had almost made him give up on his will to survive not so long ago.

But Shepard…  Shepard had been left behind by his whole family under violent and horrific circumstances; and yet, he was still here.  His body had refused to ever give up even if at times, his mind had.

And Kaidan knew that he would never be able to replace what the other man had lost; but he realized that he didn't have or even want to.  What he wanted was to give Shepard something different and new to look forward to.  So that hopefully, in time, the pain associated with his losses would fade, and he would be left with the happier memories of the good times that he had shared with his family instead.  Help him move on, by offering him something tangible to move on to.

Those memories would become something to be cherished, instead of something to be haunted by.  And though the pain would never entirely go away, and it probably shouldn't; looking at Shepard now, he also knew that pain wasn't the only legacy that his family had left him with.

"If only you could see yourself the way I see you," Kaidan said softly, not even bothering to hide the look of pure love and adoration in his eyes.  "You would never feel the need to call yourself a coward, or believe you're pretending to be any stronger than you really are, Marco."

He took a deep breath. Although Shepard had let go of the hand that was resting against the scar on his side, Kaidan let it linger there, delicately running his fingers across it, keeping his touch feather-like.

"You are good, and strong, and kind, and caring…  And there's a fire in you that shines brighter than anything I've ever seen," he added, vaguely aware that he was being a little more uninhibited than usual, but also past the point where it could have bothered him anymore.  Whether it was because he was tired, or cold, or both; the words just kept flowing out of him, and he just let them.

"And that fire is not something that can be taken, or stolen, or ever extinguished, you know.  It's simply who you are.  And it's got nothing to do with other people's expectations of you, your reputation, or even your choices and actions," he explained, wondering if he was still making any sense at all.

"But it's what I, and so many others see when they look at you…  What inspires the respect, loyalty, and sometimes, even the affection of your crew," he added with a gentle smile.

"And if your family is still watching over you – and I like to believe that they are – I know that they are probably immensely proud of the wonderful man that you have become," he said sincerely, never having been surer of anything else.  "No matter how many times you may have fallen or stumbled, or even given up…  You are still you, Marco.  And that's what I lo – like about you."  Among so many other things.  It was funny how your body could suddenly feel so hot and so cold at the same time.

Shepard's breath hitched in his throat and he had to close his eyes, feeling that still unfamiliar burn of tears returning. He'd never felt so exposed in his entire life, but somehow, it didn't bother him. It didn't bother him that Kaidan was the first person he'd ever allowed this close to him, both physically and emotionally, and it didn't bother him that Kaidan could so easily crack him open like a brittle eggshell and see all of his flaws and emotions and just him. It was simultaneously frightening and liberating to know that he wasn't alone and that he'd finally found someone he could just break apart in front of, leaving his façade in pieces on the floor. Realizing that allowing someone inside of those walls wasn't admitting or sharing weakness – it was a mark of strength and of trust, knowing that he could share the things he'd kept hidden for so long without fear of reproach or judgment.

And the fact that it was mutual, that Kaidan felt the same way – that he trusted Shepard with his secrets and his fears and his everything – that was the most overwhelming feeling in the world. In the twenty-nine years he'd been alive, he'd never felt a connection like this before, strong enough to make his chest hurt and his gut twist and his eyes burn with tears. Strong enough that he wanted more than anything to just wrap his arms around Kaidan and pull him in, lips and bodies meeting until they didn't know nor care who was who anymore. Skin to skin, mind to mind, emotions melding into one. He vaguely wondered if this was how asari felt about their mates, but the rest of him didn't care.

And despite the overwhelming cacophony of emotions boiling just beneath the surface of his skin, he managed to hold enough control over himself to remember where they were, their chances of survival, and the repercussions of his emotions. It was this horrible, disappointing feeling, reminding himself of the regulations and the consequences, of the very words he had told Kaidan during one of their prior conversations.

'I respect my crew far too much to put them through something like that.'

That was what it came down to, wasn't it? He respected – no, loved, because there was no point in even trying to deny it at this point – Kaidan far too much to even consider putting him through that. The repercussions would be severe, and he wouldn't be able to live with himself knowing that he'd put Kaidan through any kind of pain because of his feelings for him.

He opened his eyes after a long moment of trying to steady himself, forcing on a straight face as he did so. "Thank you, Kaidan," he whispered, "You have no idea how much that means to me."

Kaidan nodded with a soft smile, and snuggled a bit closer, resting his cheek against Shepard's shoulder.  He tried not to get himself too comfortable though, purposely keeping his eyes opened and lazily running his hand up and down the other man's back to avoid falling asleep.  The little dimples on Shepard's lower back were kind of sexy…  'Aaand it's time to bring that hand back up,' he thought, a bit amused at himself.  

He probably should've been ashamed, but it was kind of hard to feel bad for developing those sorts of feelings when he was pressed so close to such a gorgeous and athletic body.  Never mind that said body happened to belong to the man he loved, too.  So really, who could blame him for being just a wee bit (okay, a lot) attracted?  It was actually a rather nice reminder that he was still fully alive, and perfectly responsive to his surroundings, so to speak.  Well, as long as he still maintained enough self-control not to start acting on his impulses.  The last thing he wanted was to openly take advantage of Shepard and their current situation.

He was starting to feel a bit dizzy and nauseous, too.  And he knew that had nothing to do with Shepard's presence.  "You know, I think I'm going to have one of those energy bars now…  I believe my blood sugar might be getting a bit low," he said, reaching for one of them and removing the paper before taking a bite.  Despite the dubious taste, he let out a contented sight, not having realized how really hungry he had been until then.

"Turns out that a good biotic reave works pretty well against a maw, but those things have huge nervous systems," he explained, feeling a bit silly for having waited so long before taking anything.  Old habits, perhaps…  His early training days had taught him to push himself pretty far, after all; sometimes beyond his personal limits.  Even to this day, it was easier for him to simply follow the meals schedule instead of trying to get a feel for what his body's actual needs were.  "It might have been slightly more draining than I thought."

A shocked look crossed Shepard's face at that. "You reaved the maw to death? Jesus Christ, Kaidan. That's… actually incredibly badass," he said, breaking off with a slight laugh, shaking his head in disbelief. "I'm kind of mad I didn't get to see it. Sounds like something you'd see in a Blasto movie."

He was honestly glad that Kaidan had stopped stroking his back in order to grab the energy bar, though he tried his best not to show it. It wasn't that he wasn't enjoying it; on the contrary, he was enjoying it far too much. And if he was going to even try to stick to regulation, he couldn't be giving in to his impulses like a horny teenager. No matter how attractive and caring and wonderful Kaidan was, and no matter how obvious it was that he felt the same way about him.

It was all he could do not to curse out loud. This sucked.

Kaidan laughed back.  "Yeah, well I'm afraid 'this one' can't fight as gracefully, or with as many limbs," he said, recalling some of the over-the-top action sequences of those movies. Blasto always made those things look so ridiculously easy when real soldiers knew by experience that they were anything but.

"The Mako's guns and cannon actually did most of the job, and thankfully for us, the vehicle pretty much absorbed all of the damage, too...  We may need to request a new one from the Alliance, though," he clarified, not wanting to make it sound like he had some crazy superpowers or anything either.  He supposed that it was a good thing that the Alliance had a few more bases on Gellix; maybe they had another M35 to spare.

"It was mostly one of those typical horror film moments where you think that the monster is dead, and it suddenly springs back to life," he said with a little shrug.  "So I spun around and reacted with a reave.  Might have held on a little longer than necessary to make sure it was really dead this time, too."

"Either way, that's still pretty damn amazing," Shepard said with a soft smile, unable to hide his amusement at just how nonchalant Kaidan was about the whole ordeal. It was all he could do to hide his embarrassment, though. "I go into shock and leave you to fight a maw on your own, and you still got the job done. I'm just sorry that it happened that way."

"And here I thought we'd already been over this," Kaidan said, shaking his head a little, though his voice sounded more warm than irritated.  "It's okay, really.  The maw is dead and we're here together," he pointed out, thinking that as far as he was concerned, that was truly all that mattered.  "Besides, I'm not sure that I would have been able to take it if you'd tried to go charging into that thing," he said with a little shudder.  "Not having to scan the battlefield for large comet tails was a nice change of pace," he teased, though he couldn't help but think that the visual effect of a biotic charge was actually quite pretty.

Shepard rolled his eyes. "You couldn't pay me enough to charge one of those things," he said, unable to keep from laughing nervously. "If I'm pulling a charge, it's away from the gigantic worm that wants to eat me." He grinned a bit, expression turning somewhat devious. "In fact, I probably would've thrown you over my shoulder and charged the hell out of there. I freak you out enough with my powers as it is; imagine witnessing them firsthand."

Kaidan laughed. "Oh, God… Though I suppose that you'd have to be able to lift me up first," he said with a playful smile, letting him know that he was only toying with him.  But then again, he couldn't help but consider it.  "You know what, though…  I think I'd really like that."  

Though he wasn't exactly the kind of person that tended to take unnecessary risks, be it in sports or on the battlefield, Kaidan had always enjoyed thrill rides and other types of activities that got the adrenaline pumping. As long as things remained relatively safe and under control, that was definitely the kind of thing that he'd be willing and especially curious to try.  

"Do you really think that you would be able to do that?" he asked, eyes sparkling with sudden interest.  "I've never been able to understand how you can manage to use dark energy to propel yourself in such a way…  It just looks incredibly cool!"  If Shepard thought that he could manage to pull it off without risking injury to either of them, Kaidan knew that he really had to try it.  The Commander didn't know it, but it was exactly the kind of thing that he would just keep nagging him about until he gave in.

Shepard stared at him in disbelief for a moment, before breaking into a fit of laughter. "Are you asking if you can ride me, Lieutenant?" he asked, putting on an affronted tone and fanning himself with his free hand. "I must say that's a bit of a bold request."

He couldn't help but break into another grin, shaking his head in exasperation. "As much as I'd love to be your biotic freight train, Kaidan, I don't know what would happen if we tried it. I'd hate to accidentally splatter you on a wall or something." A thoughtful look seemed to cross his face at that, however, and he frowned slightly. "I mean, maybe you could put up a barrier… Tell you what – if we end up in a situation where we have to book it and there aren't any witnesses, we'll do it. Fair enough?"

"Or, you know…" Kaidan began, unable to keep from feeling a bit bashful now that Shepard had asked him if he wanted to ride him.  Well, that was kind of what he'd asked, hadn't he?  Or, more precisely, he was curious to find out what it would feel like to ride the currents of dark energy with him.  Just not…  Okay, now he was having trouble keeping his mind on track!

"We do have a few beautiful and very quiet lakes back in B.C…  If you get there early in the morning, there's usually no one around.  And, of course, no wall to accidentally splatter myself on either."  That would definitely be a huge plus.  "I suppose that if you were to charge from the shore to a given point farther in the water, the only thing that we would risk is getting wet."

"So, maybe during one of our next shore leaves…  I don't know…" Great, now he was making it sound like he was asking him on a date or something.  "I could also lift and throw you in the water a few times too, if you'd like.  I can, uh… lift pretty high and maintain it for a fair amount of time. Would be just like flying," he offered, not wanting Shepard to think that he was just thinking about taking advantage of his powers without giving anything in return.

'Wait…' Was he really suggesting that they use their biotic abilities to just play in a lake and have fun together?  Maybe Marco Shepard was really starting to make him loosen up a bit after all…

Shepard actually looked genuinely interested at that idea, however. "That actually sounds like it'd be a blast," he said with a soft grin. "When we finish this mission and the galaxy doesn't need us for a few days, let's do it."

"One more reason to make sure that the mission succeeds, then," Kaidan said, grinning back, finding the thought rather amusing.  For some reason, he could picture an annoying interviewer asking what the great Commander Shepard, first human Spectre, was fighting for…  And Shepard giving an answer along the lines of: "Oh, I just want to go vacationing with a friend at a lake in B.C."

Of course, in reality, the Commander would probably find something great and inspiring to say…  He always did.  But most soldiers knew that when their lives were on the line, the fate of the galaxy or the advancement of mankind wasn't usually the first thing that popped into mind, or gave them the strength they needed to get things done.  The reality of it was far less glamorous.

You usually thought about the safety of your friends, your family, your squad…  About that cool jacket that you wanted to buy on one of your next shore leaves…  Or about some other personal project that you still wished you'd be given the time to fulfill when you got back home.  It was much easier to latch onto smaller and familiar things, and seek personal connections than to fight purely for an ideal.

And it was definitely nice to have more to look forward to than war and death.  "You know, being part of the Alliance is great and it does feel like home most of the time," Kaidan said, realizing that he'd pretty much devoted his whole life to his career over the last ten years.  "But I guess I should start trying to develop other interests too, or else I just won't know what to do with myself when I eventually decide to retire."

Shepard sighed, eyes closing for a moment. "You and me both. I'm probably never going to retire, if only because I don't have anywhere to go," he said in a soft voice, before his eyes opened again, expression turning sad for a moment. "You know, I never took extended leave when it came up. I'd just ask for a transfer to another ship. I've been hopping from ship to ship for so long… I've never even had a place to stay. After Akuze, when they put me on mandatory leave, they had to scramble to find me an apartment in New York. And I only stayed there for maybe seven months before I went back into active duty. Then they submitted me for N7 training, and well… here I am. I imagine I can retire when I find a place I belong."

"Well, I'm not suggesting that either of us retire any time soon," Kaidan pointed out.  "Especially not when you just got this new exciting Spectre position…  And I managed to make it on your team."  Career wise, Kaidan felt like they were at a pretty great place right now, one where they had the power and resources to truly make a difference.  And that wasn't something that he was looking forward to giving up…  At least, not yet.

What saddened him, though, was the thought that Shepard was apparently staying with the Alliance military mainly because he felt like he had nowhere else to go.  That probably didn't stop him from enjoying his work, however.  And if he wanted to be completely honest with himself, one of the reasons why he had eventually found his own way back to the Alliance was because as a biotic, he had been out of options.  He'd just been lucky that the job really did suit him.

"But if the galaxy is ever done needing saving, or if I become too old or tired for this shit, who knows?" he said with a little shrug.  "I guess meanwhile, it wouldn't hurt to try to strike a balance between work and a few other more mundane things, hobbies and stuff."  If only to avoid burning out by the time they'd reached forty.

"We would have to begin slowly then…  Maybe a few days off here and there…  Perhaps even a week?" he offered with a gentle smile, taking into consideration the fact that Shepard had just told him that the last time he'd taken some time to himself, it was because he had been forced to.  "Oh, and if you're ever looking for a place to stay on Earth, I do have a small apartment in Vancouver."

While his parents had often insisted that he'd always be welcomed in their home, and they didn't mind housing him whenever he needed a place to stay between assignments, Kaidan had still felt the need to get his own place, even if he was virtually never there.  He just needed to know that he had his own territory, a place where he didn't need to report to anyone, and he could just sit back, relax, and not care if his bed was still unmade, or the dirty dishes were still on the table.

"It's in a very quiet neighborhood, and I usually go there whenever I want to take my mind off things.  Just read a book, watch movies, or do some thinking, you know…" he explained, realizing that his life outside the military probably didn't sound all that exciting.  "It's big enough for two, and I think that I trust you enough not to trash the place if you ever needed to spend some time over there on your own," he added with a teasing smile.

A smile worked its way across Shepard's lips at that, and without thinking he gently rested his forehead against Kaidan's shoulder. "I'd love that," he whispered.

The very idea that he actually had somewhere to go, somewhere that he was welcomed… It was enough to make him giddy. It was new, and refreshing, and it felt so good. He wasn't used to it, but it was perfect and he liked it – even if things didn't work out, if regulations stood between them, he still felt like there was a permanent connection that had formed between Kaidan and him, and that was all that mattered. Shepard didn't need a home to feel like he belonged – he was perfectly content in Kaidan's arms. As a friend, a lover, or nothing more than a brother-in-arms, he didn't care.

"Then it's settled…" Kaidan said, lightly resting his chin on top of Shepard's head and drawing him closer.  "We get rescued; find a way to stop Saren and his geth; solve pretty much all of the Alliance's problems along the way…" Because he had no doubt that as soon as they were back to the Normandy and fit for duty, Hackett would probably have a bunch of other secondary missions for them.  And, of course, Shepard could never actually say "no." How did we end up collecting mineral resources again?  "…Then ask for a joint shore leave; take a few days off to go swimming at a lake in B.C.; make a brief stop at my parent's home for a good home cooked dinner; and finally end up at my apartment for some quiet before heading back to work."

He chuckled a bit. "You know, when I say it that way, it does sound pretty easy."  In truth, they'd probably be lucky to make it out of that cave alive…  Still, it was nice to be able to just make plans as if everything was going to be all right, even if it only ended up giving them hope.

"I think, when this is over, I might go back to Mindoir," Shepard said in a quiet voice, expression concealed by Kaidan's shoulder as he leaned against him. "Just for a little bit. I haven't been there since the attack."

Truth be told he had never even seen where they had buried his family. His injuries had been so severe that he'd been rendered comatose for a few weeks, and by the time he'd woken up, his family had been buried and he was on his way to an Alliance temp facility for biotics. With BAaT shut down and the Ascension Project unheard of, he spent a good part of the next year shuffling from facility to facility, until he was finally old enough to enlist. He'd been so swept up in the thick of things that he'd never bothered to look back.

A very small part of him had always wanted to go back – take a few days of shore leave and catch a transport to the colony, comb the local graveyards for a set of four headstones carved with the name Shepard. If only to have the chance to finally say goodbye, once and for all.

But the rest of him didn't want to say goodbye, so thirteen years had gone by and he still didn't know where his family had been buried. Maybe closure was all he had ever needed. Or maybe seeing it would make it true and nothing would get better; it would only get worse, like peeling scabs away to expose the wounds festering beneath. Either way, he tried not to think about it too much.

"Whenever you're ready to head back there, if you want someone to go with you, I'll make sure to be available," Kaidan said. He didn't want Shepard to have to face those feelings on his own, unless that was what he preferred.  In that case, he wouldn't try to impose his presence, but he felt like he needed him to know that the option was there, and that he could count on him.

Shepard sighed softly, warm breath wafting over the bare skin of Kaidan's shoulder. "I'd appreciate that, really. Thank you, Kaidan."

They spent the next few hours talking about everything and nothing while doing their best to keep warm… Old childhood stories, the types of movies they enjoyed watching, tales from some of their earliest missions after they had joined the Alliance.  However, they purposely avoided mentioning how much time had passed, or the fact that the storm was still raging outside, wind howling against the cave mouth.  Kaidan was also starting to have some doubts regarding the distress beacon - what if it had been too damaged to send a clear signal to the people back at the facility?  After all, it wasn't like he'd had the time to inspect it after activating it, especially not without risking getting in contact with the thresher's acid.  He wasn't going to voice his concern, though, not when they were both starting to get dangerously tired, and it was getting harder and harder to maintain their focus.

They had used their last heat pack about three hours ago. Kaidan had hesitated a little before opening it, until Shepard had put his own hands on top of his, giving them a reassuring squeeze while whispering "It's okay, we'll get through this."  They had no way of knowing that, of course, but he'd still nodded and offered him an encouraging smile; sharing the need to keep on believing that everything would be fine, if only for a while longer.

That pack was no longer emitting any heat now, and the hypothermia had once again begun to set in a little while ago; their bodies were shivering against each other, their skin becoming unnaturally pale, lips tinged blue.  Eventually the shaking subsided completely, and that was perhaps one of the things that had Kaidan worried the most.

They were only making small talk now, keeping the subjects as simple as possible, Shepard leading most of the conversation since his ability to maintain his concentration was slightly better than his.  He still did his best to keep him actively involved, continuously asking him questions ranging from his favorite color to how many fingers a parrot had.  Anything that came to mind, really, all the while trying to hide his growing concern as Kaidan became more and more hesitant or slow to answer, his speech a bit slurred at times.

He was still doing all he could to hold on, though, stubbornly refusing to go down without a fight.  But all the willpower in the world couldn't stop the profound weariness from settling into his body, and he could feel himself growing weaker despite his resolve.

The fight with the batarians, taking down that thresher maw, the long walk in the snow right in the middle of a blizzard, and the energy that had been required to revive Shepard and keep him safe…  All of it was finally taking its toll, his body having been pushed way past the limits of what it would normally be able to endure.

Even the sound of Shepard's voice, the one thing that, until then, had successfully managed to keep him solidly grounded to reality, was starting to have a strong lulling quality.

"Marco…  I'm sorry…  I…" Kaidan whispered brokenly, feeling all of the muscles in his body go lax against his will, slumping against Shepard as his eyes fluttered closed.  I wish we'd had more time… he thought wistfully, the darkness pressing heavily upon him.

"K…Kaidan, stay… stay with me," Shepard stammered, voice hoarse and cracked – he reached up and tapped his fingers against the side of Kaidan's face, trying to jolt him awake. He had no way of even knowing how hard he was tapping him because his fingers had gone completely numb with cold, but apparently it wasn't hard enough because Kaidan didn't open his eyes.

"C'mon Kaidan… If you go, I go, so you gotta… you gotta stay awake, a-alright?" Shepard pleaded, tapping him a little harder. When he didn't respond, Shepard let out a shaking breath that might have been a sob of frustration, before he slapped him as hard as he could, palm connecting with his cheek – it was weak and pitiful and barely made a sound, and he realized that he didn't even have enough strength left in his body to muster up a hard smack.

He swore out loud, voice broken, as he reached back and buried his fingers in Kaidan's hair and pulled him forward, until their foreheads were touching again. He would've cried if he was capable, but as it stood he was so numb all over it was a wonder he could still move, let alone cry. "I'm sorry Kaidan," he whispered, voice choked with regret.

He leaned forward before he had a chance to talk himself out of it, angling his head until his lips met Kaidan's in a soft kiss. 'I'm so sorry…'

Kaidan could feel himself being slowly pulled under, while part of him still kept resisting, stubbornly maintaining some minimal awareness of his surroundings.  His whole body felt distant though, as if it was no longer quite his and was refusing to obey his command.  The darkness itself was actually very warm and soothing - welcoming, even - and he knew that if he gave in, he would be safe... that there was nothing for him to fear once he let go…  But he couldn't, not while Shepard still needed him.

He could hear his voice somewhere in the back of his mind, begging him to wake up… asking him to stay. And he wanted so much to tell him that he was trying, to find some way to respond, to let him know that he was still holding on with all that he had, all that he was; and that he was never, ever letting go.

He tried to focus on his senses - sound, touch, smell - anything that could keep the darkness at bay.  A pricking sensation on his cheek…  Cool fingers moving through his hair…

And then, there was something else – something gentle and delicate caressing his lips…  A warm breath, followed by soft, if only slightly chapped skin…  

Before his mind even had time to process what was really happening, Kaidan felt a powerful fire originating deep within his lower belly, quickly spreading to the rest of his body.  That fire was tapping into adrenaline reserves that, until moments ago, he never would have guessed were even there; much less known how to access them.

He regained control of his mouth first, lips languidly moving against Shepard's, following the other man's lead, thoughts still somewhat confused and distant as the pressure and pace slowly begun to increase. Tongue tentatively pushing past Shepard's lips, instinctively seeking his. Heart rate picking up, breath quickening, body and limbs becoming part of himself again, mind clearing up and…

Oh god. Shepard is kissing me…  Shepard. Is. Kissing. Me.  The shock of that realization only lasted a fraction of a second as Kaidan's heart immediately soared, and he grabbed the other man in his arms, almost crushing Shepard's body to his as their lips met again in a hungry kiss that was filled with so much love, passion, desire, and perhaps even just a little bit of despair.

As they kissed, Kaidan's hands began to explore the back of Shepard's neck, his muscular shoulders, the smooth curve of his lower back; allowing said hands to reach lower than he had ever dared to allow himself to touch him before.  He pressed his thighs, his hips, his chest, his whole body as close as he could to Shepard's, almost trying to melt into him, wishing to let this man know and feel just how much he loved and needed him.  To finally say with his lips, body and touch everything that, until then, he hadn't had the courage to express with words.

If part of him knew that this was just a temporary reprieve… that sooner or later, the darkness would once again catch up to them; he decided that, in that moment, he no longer cared. He would gladly kiss Shepard from this life into the next without any regrets; as he could feel that neither of them had any intention to ever let the other go.  As long as they remained together, no matter what would happen, deep down, he knew that everything would be okay.

Shepard was almost startled by the ferocity of Kaidan's reaction, but as it stood, he could barely muster up the energy to be surprised. He had just enough for this, for now, and that was all he cared about. Kaidan was alive, he was awake, he was responsive – so responsive that it left Shepard breathless, feeling his hands roaming over his body, calloused fingertips and palms brushing over skin left untouched, and— Good lord, he's a good kisser.

He wanted to stay like this forever, bodies entwined together in perfect form, lips pressed together, tongues twining, hands running through hair, across skin, anywhere they dared to go, regulations be damned. The very last thing on his mind was regulation. He loved Kaidan, he loved the way Kaidan made him feel, physically and emotionally and everything and he wasn't going to let a fucking rulebook get in the way of that.

That revelation was enough to shake him to the core but he refused to give it pause, only stopping their contact for the sake of oxygen, gasping for breath, lungs aching with effort and cold air, before they pushed together once more. Even if they died tonight… this was what he wanted.

But he didn't want to die tonight. Not when he'd found this, when he'd found Kaidan, the only person capable of breaking down all of his defenses and yet still made him feel so incredibly strong, so capable of anything and everything. The only person to see all of him, inside and throughout, and love him regardless of the person he really was, the person he'd spent so long trying to hide away. He'd never felt like this before but he knew it was something unique, something so very important, and something he would likely never feel again if he let it slip away.

He very nearly would have let it, and that was probably the revelation that hurt the most. They needed to live, to make it out there, if only to avoid losing what they'd only just found. What he'd only just found.

"Glad to see you two found a good way to keep warm."

Kaidan's eyes immediately went wide with shock as he stared back at Shepard, unmoving, lips still lightly resting against his.  Judging by the very surprised, off-guard expression being returned to him, he quickly figured that the voice he'd just heard hadn't been a figment of his imagination.  Which meant…

"Oh god," he whispered, mortified, as he slowly turned his head to the side to see Ashley kneeling there, looking over them both with an amused, if perhaps slightly too pleased with herself smile on her face.

"It's okay.  Don't ask, don't tell," she quickly said, raising both hands in a mock "I surrender" gesture.  "Besides, it's pretty dark in here…  I think my eyes still need some more time to adjust," she added with a wink, before activating the omnitool on her wrist and waving it over the both of them.

Kaidan finally allowed himself to relax, rolling a bit on his back and pulling Shepard close against his chest.  He was still embarrassed from having been caught making out with his Commander like some horny teenager – by a soldier technically under his command, no less – but, at the same time, he was beyond relieved that they'd finally been found.  For the first time in the last few hours, the words "we're going to be fine" meant more to him than some vague expression of hope.

Shepard, on the other hand, wished more than anything he could just melt through the ground and disappear right then and there. He wasn't sure which was worse – the idea that they were hallucinating and his mind had decided to conjure up the most humiliating scenario in his final moments, or that Ashley had indeed shown up out of the blue to rescue their frozen asses from certain death, and had the great luck of showing up right when they were in the middle of a heated make-out session. It was one thing to be found half naked in an embrace with another soldier in a similar state of undress – that had been a necessary evil to keep themselves alive. Awkward, but necessary, and easily explainable regardless of how both parties felt towards one another.

He was far too embarrassed to even think about the ramifications of having been seen kissing a subordinate. Not that he expected Ashley to get her fatigues in a wad and report the both of them for some reason or another. He trusted her well enough that he knew she wouldn't subject them to that kind of embarrassment. Though as it stood, as a Spectre, there wasn't really much fear of recourse for his actions, unless the Alliance decided to keelhaul the first human Spectre for fraternization, of all things. He only really expected to see that charge at the bottom of a larger list, and only if things went horribly south. Arson, murder, and jaywalking, as it were.

Shepard let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, closing his eyes for a moment as he laid against Kaidan's body, refusing to even part contact with him just yet, arms still circled around his torso and fingers numbly clinging to his shoulders. He could see the orange glow of Ashley's omnitool waving around even through his eyelids, but it was comforting nonetheless knowing that it was there and it meant that they were going to be okay. He didn't even bother trying to say anything to her just yet – he'd be lucky to form two coherent words at this point. He felt himself sagging again, ready to go under, but for the first time in the past several hours he didn't fight the urge tooth and nail. Ashley's voice became nothing more than a comforting drone as she spoke into her communicator.

"…transferring the data to your omnitool now, doctor. The perimeter appears to be safe; you can send in the medical team.  We'll need the enviro-pods to carry them out of here, too," Ashley spoke through their short-range comm. device.

"Copy that, we'll be there in a moment," Dr. Chakwas' voice confirmed through the communicator. Ashley closed the omnitool and opened two self-heating packs from the first aid kit she had brought with her, and began applying them delicately to their necks.

"Here..." she said softly, voice filled with relief and lingering concern.  Now that her initial amusement at having surprised two of her best friends engaged in a passionate embrace had passed, she was reminded of how deeply worried she had been until they'd finally found them.  The situation wasn't exactly critical anymore; but Shepard and Kaidan were still in pretty bad shape - half-frozen, dehydrated, and obviously exhausted.  Though she wished there was something more she could do to ease their discomfort, Ashley was incredibly glad that they'd successfully managed to keep each other alive until then.  After what had happened to her unit on Eden Prime, she didn't think that she would have been able to handle losing more of the people she cared about.  "You two scared us pretty bad…  We were afraid we'd lost you…" she whispered, voice choked.

"I was afraid we'd been lost, too," Kaidan admitted quietly with a grateful smile, closing his eyes for a moment, letting out a soft sigh and tightening his hold on Shepard a little.

Shepard breathed in slowly, face still turned into the bared skin of Kaidan's shoulder, trying to focus on the warmth now spreading from the heat pack on the back of his neck and slowly forcing some life back into his numb body. The embarrassment had passed and he didn't care that Ashley was watching them – at this point he wanted nothing more than to just fall asleep in Kaidan's arms without the fear that sleeping meant certain death for the both of them. He forced himself to stay awake for now though, lifting his head enough to look over at Ashley as she lingered above them. "Thank you, Ash," he managed to say, voice a barely audible, hoarse whisper – it was all he could do not to burst into tears of relief when it finally sunk into his chest like a knife that they really were going to be okay and that this wasn't all some stupid hallucination. Judging by the slight smile that quirked the corner of her lips, she understood him.

After that, everything was pretty much a giant blur.  Kaidan was vaguely aware of Dr. Chakwas and one or two Alliance paramedics reaching them, Garrus in tow.  He'd exchanged a few words with her, letting her know about Shepard's earlier cardiac arrest, and urging her to keep a close eye on him.  She'd kindly reassured him that she would make sure that both of them stayed safe, and told him to stop worrying so much.

While she spoke, he noticed that Dr. Chakwas had that tender, slightly amused smile on her lips…  Actually, it was almost the same kind of smile that his mother often had when it was clear that she knew more than she was letting on.  For some reason, he'd found it quite a bit unnerving.  Surely his concern for Shepard's well-being and safety wasn't so odd?

She had then placed a mask over his mouth and nose, while a paramedic had done the same for Shepard, and he'd felt warm, humidified air fill his lungs.

Kaidan had experienced an odd sense of loss as he'd finally been pulled away from the other man's body…  A strange emptiness, as if something had suddenly gone missing, and it was all he could do not to instinctively try to grab on to Shepard.  They'd nevertheless managed to share a last look, a gentle smile and a small nod – both of them wordless saying "It's okay, I'll see you soon." to each other – before he'd been lifted up from the blanket lying on the ground by… Wrex?

"Wrex?" Kaidan asked, thinking that after finding himself carried bridal-style by a heavy armored krogan, the day couldn't get any weirder.

"Alenko," the krogan answered, before letting out a throaty laugh at Kaidan's puzzled expression, and placing him in a narrow transport pod.  "When you and Shepard are back on your feet, you two have got to tell me how you managed to kill that thresher maw.  Can't believe I missed it!" he added with barely contained excitement.

"Wrex…" he heard Dr. Chakwas warn him.  

"What? I said once they're back on their feet…" came the krogan's somewhat annoyed answer.  "Spoilsport," he added more quietly, making Kaidan snort.  Meanwhile, Ashley had placed a heavy electric blanket over him, giving him an encouraging smile and a little pat on the shoulder, before pushing the button to make the pod's transparent lid slide closed.

A few moments later, Dr. Chakwas once again came into view, checking the pod's readings and making a few adjustments, before ordering Wrex and another marine to lift it from the ground, and move out.  Looking to the side, he could see Ashley and Garrus carrying another identical enviro-pod.  Though he had trouble catching a good glimpse of the man lying inside of it, he knew that Shepard was now safe, too, and that was all that mattered.

Thus, as the darkness returned and demanded his surrender, he finally agreed to a truce and gave in; letting feelings of deep relief and warmth wash upon him, secure in the knowledge that the battle was finally won.  He smiled, his last conscious thought being the memory of Shepard's soft lips against his…
This story is co-authored with :iconcygnonymous: . Please follow the links at the end of the description to get to the next chapters.

SPOILERS: Everything up to and including Mass Effect 3's ending.

SUMMARY: After the tragic events of Mindoir and Akuze, Marco Shepard has grown so accustomed to the abyss that the idea of falling into it doesn’t scare him anymore. And when someone no longer fears death, being ‘willing to die for someone’ becomes hollow words… But this time, he may just have found someone to live for...

DISCLAIMERS: All the characters in the story belong to Bioware, and whoever else has the rights on Mass Effect. Some quotes will directly be borrowed from the games.

Anything about Marco Shepard that isn't already part of the default character, including his personality and elements of his back story, was created by Cygnonymous.

Oh! And so is that gorgeous cover picture that she drew for our story. That's totally Cygnonymous' artwork. One of the perks for collaborating with a writing partner that has all the talents. ; b

WARNING: Certain chapters may contain more mature situations such as thoughts related to depression and suicidal intent, descriptions of violence, and sex between two loving and consenting adults.

Chapter 1: [link]
Chapter 2: [link]
Chapter 3: [link]
Chapter 4-1: [link]
Chapter 4-2: [link]
Chapter 5-1: [link]
Chapter 5-2: [link]
Chapter 6-1: [link]
Chapter 6-2: [link]
Chapter 7-1: [link]
Chapter 7-2: [link]
Chapter 7-3: [link]
Chapter 7-4: [link]
Chapter 8-1: [link]
Chapter 8-2: [link]
Chapter 8-3: [link]
Chapter 9-1: [link]
Chapter 9-2: [link]
Chapter 9-3: [link]
Chapter 10: Coming soon!
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:iconelrohir525:
Elrohir525 Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2013
I'm still checking daily for your latest wonderful chapter, ~TheLostGirl21 and =Cygnonymous! :love: Any chgance you could give your fans a quick update on how it's going? Thanks!
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:iconthelostgirl21:
TheLostGirl21 Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2013
Lol! Look on Cygnonymous' account probably later this evening... :D

Note: Chapter 8 is already available on fanfiction.net and Archive of our Own in case you want to go read it right away. Lol! The delay for DA is my fault, because it took me longer to "html" it for here... Sorry!
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:iconelrohir525:
Elrohir525 Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2013
Wooo-hoooo!!! :woohoo: I'm off to read it right now!
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:iconthelostgirl21:
TheLostGirl21 Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2013
Lol! It's already here actually. All you need to do is click on the link! Lol! ;P Enjoy! :D
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:iconsky-blaster:
Sky-Blaster Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Really hope this continues. One of the best Shepard and Kaidan fics I've read.
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:iconthelostgirl21:
TheLostGirl21 Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2013
Thank you so much! :squee:

We are continuing this for sure! Just being ridiculously slow about it (so sorry)! ;P

More seriously though, like I just wrote to the last reviewer, we are nearing the end of Chapter 8 (that's going to be little longer than 7), so hopefully, we should be able to update pretty soon.

Thanks again for your kind comment, and having taken the time to read our story! :D
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:icontwimoonclips:
twimoonclips Featured By Owner Dec 1, 2012
Aaah! Where's the next part!? I have checked back daily for weeks now... I'm dying over here! I love this so much Thank you soo much for this story! So talented! <3 xoxo can't wait! So excited. Waiting for the next part is like being an 8 year old waiting for Christmas!
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:iconthelostgirl21:
TheLostGirl21 Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2013
Just to let you know that the next part of our story is currently available on fanfiction.net and Archive of our Own... And should be posted on Deviant Art some time tonight. ;P
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:iconthelostgirl21:
TheLostGirl21 Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2013
Thank you so much! :hooray:

The good news is that Chapter 8 is going to be another very long Chapter (a little longer than Chapter 7)...

The other good news is that we are nearing the end of it...

The bad news is that it isn't ready yet. ;P

But we've found a way to be more consistant with the amount work we both get done each week so hopefully the next updates afterwards should happen more often.

Thank you so much for your patience (not that you have much of a choice, but still)! :D
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:iconaxxaxxin:
Axxaxxin Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2012
Wow. I will never look at Shepard and Kaidan the same ever again. This is the most heart felt read I have ever read. Beautiful. Gorgeous. This really will stick with me for a while. Thank you. :la:
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