"just… come back alive, okay?” for my favourite emotionally distant brothers
Picking his way through bombed out streets should feel more jarring than this, Cade thinks, but he’s long stopped caring. London would be another casualty, another tally of deaths somewhere, in some statistic that would be rounded off and watered down whenever someone dared to talk about it.
He kicks a broken piece of pavement out of the way as he walks, taking five while Anderson pulls whats left of the operations base together. The air is stagnant with acrid smoke, punctuated by the stench of blood, gunmetal and gasoline. It used to make his skin crawl, and he’d curl a hand tighter around his rifle. Now, the gun sits in its holster on his back, and he doesn’t feel a thing when the cold air scrapes through the grooves of his armour.
He’s used to it.
Hearing footsteps, Cade looks up, spotting a flash of blue armour marching towards him. Kaidan. A flicker of blue light curls around his clenched fist as he walks, head down.
“Kaidan.” Cade holds out an arm to stop the Major, who shoots him a defiant look but slows to a halt. Cade looks at him, brow creasing with concern when he finds the telltale red eyes and lips pulled tight.
“Hey, Shepard.” Kaidan sounds wrong too, “I- uh, you been to the comm station yet?”
Cade shakes his head. He was making his way there, but it feels… too final. A last stop, a last check-in, a last goodbye to a lot of people he isn’t ready to say goodbye to.
It’s an internal struggle, a typical tug of war between his heart and his mind. Cade wants to say he’ll see them on the other side, he wants to tell them not to worry. He wants to say it’s all gonna be okay.
The problem is, he knows he probably won’t be coming back. Or even if he does, he won’t be the same.
This war’s taken everything from him, and he knows how tired he is. He can feel it. Not just physically, but… everywhere. Right down to the bone, right down to the heart; waking up every day is getting harder, going to bed at night is terrifying. The in-between is empty, grey, static noise that he loses sight of colour in.
“Not yet.” Cade draws a line under his thoughts and answers Kaidan. “Did you speak to–”
“Lachlan? Yeah. How’d you guess?” Kaidan huffs out a humourless laugh, and Cade manages a sympathetic smile.
“He’ll be fine.” Cade says, and he’s at least sure of that. Lucky’s smarter than he is, always has been, and he’s ended up in a lot less trouble over the years than Cade did. Kaidan sighs through gritted teeth, brushing loose strands of hair out of his forehead as he spares a glance at Big Ben in the distance.
“He’s out of the way, at least.” Kaidan admits. Cade knows he won’t feel any better about it until they’re all on the other side, still standing.
“Yeah. He is.” Cade nods, slowly. He knows time’s running short, and they can’t stay here. He just wishes there’s something to say that would ease Kaidan’s worry, if only a little. Cade dwells on it for a short moment before he claps Kaidan on the shoulder, squeezing lightly to pull his attention. Kaidan looks over, eyes still glassy, but a little brighter.
“Lucky’s a stubborn asshole, K. Trust me, he’s not gonna let you go that easy.” Cade tells him, and it’s enough for Kaidan to manage a small smile in return. Cade’s happy with that.
“Guess that runs in the family, huh?” Kaidan mirrors Shepard’s gesture, a heavy hand on his shoulder, but, Cade hopes, with a lighter heart.
“Maybe.” Cade chuckles quietly, and they give each other their wordless farewell.
Once Kaidan’s out of sight, Cade turns back to his path from before, ending up in the comm station Kaidan mentioned. It’s empty, save a single tech specialist lingering by a console. He salutes when he realizes who’s just walked in, and Cade gestures for him to relax. He’s not standing on protocol in a place like this.
“Need to get through to someone, Commander?” the tech officer asks, hand poised over the console while he waits for a response.
“Yeah. Stationed over in Big Ben – there’s a base there?” Cade sighs, and the officer nods eagerly, hands flitting over the console.
“Yes, sir. Anyone in particular?”
“Shepard. Lachlan.” Cade tells him, and a holo flickers up moments later. The officer nods to Cade before he steps outside the building, giving them some privacy.
“Cade? That you?” Loch’s voice is disjointed, static-ridden and shifting, but unmistakeably his. Cade lets it sink in for a moment, bracing himself on the comm console as the gravity of the situation sits heavy on his shoulders again.
“Yeah, bach. It’s me.” Cade says quietly, “You okay?”
“Holding out. This place is a killzone, but for them. No way they’re getting up here.” Loch sounds confident, and Cade’s glad to hear it. “Just keeping the road as clear as we can for Hammer.”
“Yeah. Good.” Cade rubs the back of his neck, aching. “Just… keep yourself safe, Lucky.”
“I can’t promise you that.” Loch replies, quiet, and Cade knows it’s true. “Already told Kai that.”
“I just saw him.” Cade mentions, hands dropping back to the console. Loch shifts from foot to foot in the holo, wringing his hands nervously.
“How is he?”
“Worried. We all are.” Cade admits.
“Me too.” Loch’s voice is interrupted by static, and Cade narrows his eyes, watching the holo flicker out and back in. “Woah, sorry. I need to get back to position, but… shit, Cade. I need you and Kai to…”
Loch doesn’t finish his sentence, trailing off with a swallow. Cade hates the way Loch sounds so scared, quiet and far away. He can’t just reach out and pull him in for a hug, or tell him it’s gonna be fine. Loch would see right through it.
“I know.” Cade says gently, “I know. Just stay focused.”
“No, Cade, I mean it. Just… come back alive, okay?” Loch’s breaking up over more static, signal failing. “Please.”
I can’t promise you that, Cade wants to say.
Instead, he smiles.
“Eyes up, little brother.”