“Kaidan?” I called, trying to sound less hopeful and confused than I felt.
“Yeah,” he answered, sounding a little sheepish. Without pause, he launched into what sounded like a prepared speech. “I’ve been thinking about Horizon, and about us. I know I was over the top, that I never gave you a chance to explain anything. I was so shocked to see you standing there, despite all of the rumors that you hadn’t died. There you were, riding to my rescue again like nothing had happened and I was so angry that you could be so strong after being gone for two years. I’d just watched you solve the problem I’d been struggling with for weeks and then mop up the very creatures who’d left me lying on the ground, helpless. I felt like an ass and that’s how I reacted. I’m sorry.”
I was thankful that he couldn’t see me. Blood rushed to my face and tears spilled from my eyes. That he still felt deeply enough for me to find me this way, to put himself out so far in the hopes that I still loved him, moved me beyond words. I opened my mouth but couldn’t think of a thing to say. My silence must have made him doubt me, and he continued. “I’ve had some time to think about what you said and I realize now that you must have been as stunned as I was. I never thought about what you might have had to go through but now I understand that you might as well have been dead for most of that time, for all that you could have done. Cerberus held you prisoner, drugged unconscious almost the whole time and only let you go when the base was attacked.”
I finally found my voice. “Who told you that?” I asked. “I may have been unconscious but they literally brought me back from the dead. They have their own reasons but without Cerberus I would be so much space debris right now.” How can I be in the position of defending Cerberus? I thought. I hate the things they stand for and the tactics they use. But Kaidan made it sound like I should have chosen differently when my only other option would have been staying dead.
“You’re going to defend them,” he answered hotly, “after what we saw of them on so many hidden bases? I can understand Joker’s desertion after he was grounded, but you? I thought I knew you better than that.”
“No,” I answered as levelly as I could manage, “I’m not defending them. I’m trying to say that, in this case, we don’t know the ends but I’m pretty pleased with the means so far. I’m alive, I’m still a Spectre, and I can still fight to protect people. The Alliance couldn’t have done that, even had they wanted to.”
I pounded my fist on my leg in frustration. What I wanted was to open the door and fling myself into his arms but what all I could do was stand here, defenseless, rehashing the same troubled ground we’d stumbled over on Horizon. “I may hate what Cerberus stands for but they’ve given me a new start and I’m trying to make a difference in the universe with it. They don’t make decisions for me or control me, but they do have a stake in what I’m trying to accomplish.”
I heard Kaidan pacing on the other side of the door. Metal it may have been, but it was only a thin sheet, a rudimentary nod at privacy in a cabin built for one. I remembered his picture and froze, trying to think of a way to distract him but I heard him pick it up off of the desk, muttering, “You still…” and then falling silent for a time. “Do you remember when I told you that I was worried about you, that I didn’t want to see you doing the wrong things for the right reasons? I still feel that way. I don’t want to you be blind to the sort of people they are.”
The best thing about taking a shower on-board was the endless hot water, siphoning heat from the engines and recycled through filters to run forever. As I melted inside, I adjusted the spray to keep me warm and stepped closer to the door. I leaned my burning face against the cool metal and imagined that it was Kaidan’s shoulder, upon which I’d so often longed to lean in the past weeks.
“I do remember,” I said. “I remember having someone to worry about me, to pull me back from that cliff.” I cleared my throat, my voice having gotten suspiciously thick. “But I also remember that you used to trust me to see the cliff for myself, as well.” I was crying in earnest, now, partly with relief that he could still sound so tender but mostly for how lost we both sounded. I muffled my sobs with the washcloth for a moment and continued. “Can’t you give me a chance to prove to you that I still can?”
“I’m so scared for you,” he whispered, sounding as though he, too, were pressed against the door. “I can’t lose you again but I see that Cerberus logo on the Normandy and it makes me want to throw a barrier around you so that they can’t manipulate your good intentions.” I pressed my hand against the door, wishing I weren’t in the shower so that I could touch Kaidan’s face. “I want to trust you,” he said, “but I can’t trust them.
“Hell,” he said, “Can I just come in there so that we can talk about this?”
“No!” I shouted, leaping back. I glanced down, seeing myself anew, scarred and exposed. There was nowhere to hide in this cursed room, nothing with which to shield myself, beyond the inadequate washcloth soaked with my tears, should he choose to open the door. I faltered on, “I’m…not dressed.”
After a pause, Kaidan responded softly, “There was a time when that wouldn’t have mattered.” I assumed that some evil power was punishing me with such a tempting opening and that I would open the door to find some horrible thing on the other side masquerading as my erstwhile lover. How else could I explain this turn of events?
But leaping back into his arms wouldn’t solve our problems, despite the nearly overwhelming desire to do so. “I don’t think we’re quite ready for that just yet,” I said, cursing myself for being so upstanding and strong. I felt like a puddle on the floor but I clung to my dignity nonetheless. “You’re holding me hostage in my own shower,” I said.
“What?!” Kaidan sounded suitably shocked by the accusation and the moment was broken, sparing me the humiliation of immediate exposure.
“Yes,” I continued. “You’ve got my robe out there and I can hardly stand here, nude and dripping, while we try to have a serious conversation through my bathroom door.”
“Dripping?” Kaidan asked, carefully avoiding the other adjective I’d used. “Don’t you have a towel in there?” I could almost feel him smiling as he said it.
“If I had a towel don’t you think I’d have opened the door by now?” I answered. Hot water still pounded on my back, no longer relaxing but instead a symbol of how absurd my life tended to be. But the evil mechanized door didn’t open only a little so that he could hand my robe in to me. It was either open or shut, and there was no in between to preserve my modesty. If I ever got my hands on the designers of this tortuous place they would pay for every oversight with their flesh.
I wasn’t ready for Kaidan to see me, to see the evidence of how much Cerberus had had to fix of me, but could I trust him not to peek? I knew that I wouldn’t have been able to trust myself, were the situation reversed. This demon-spawned door, however, made mockery of any attempts at closeness. I couldn’t judge his body language, couldn’t stroke his face or let him lace his fingers with mine has he had so often done during private moments before. How could we rebuild our relationship when I was trapped, naked, behind this horrible metal sheet of a door?
“This is ridiculous,” I said, thumping my hand on the grey barrier. “I don’t know how you got here but I will not have this conversation through a goddamned door.” I slumped against the infernal thing, warmed now by the shower’s heat, not defeated but regrouping.
“Okay,” said Kaidan. “I promise not to look.”
Before I could move, the wet door whisked across my skin and I all but fell out of my own bathroom, past the robe that he was holding out and straight into his arms. His dutifully-closed eyes popped open in surprise and an “oof” escaped him as I smashed into his chest. He caught me neatly, closing his arms around me before I had a chance to fall. We both froze for a moment, eyes wide, as the water drenched him and we both realized how very, very nude I was. The moment drew itself out until I gathered my wits about me to salvage what dignity I could.
“You promised not to look, Alenko,” I reminded him sternly. With a smile, he closed his eyes once more but did not release me. I buried my head in his chest, torn between humiliation and sheer joy. He stroked my back and I relaxed into his once-familiar scent for just a moment, until I could decide what to do next. While far better than the door, being so physically unprotected made it difficult for me to feel strong emotionally. Our problems could not be solved by a simple hug or our encounter on Horizon would have been very different. Just for one minute, though, I let myself forget our recent history and just wallow in physical contact. When I felt his lips on my neck it seemed perfectly natural and I tightened my arms around his waist, snuggling in a little closer.
Despite my lack of attire, I was decidedly warm. Kaidan’s hands grew less soothing and increasingly wandered while his teeth nipped at my skin. As his fingers passed across scars and ridges that hadn’t been there the last time we’d been this close, he lifted his head and whispered in my ear, “I’m so sorry.” I turned to look at him and I don’t know whether we started crying before or after our lips met. With a groan, he lifted me and propelled me backwards into the pounding water, letting that same door, no longer my enemy, shush closed behind us.