Kaidan sat beside Shepard in silence. The decision hadn’t been easy for her to make, and he could see the doubt in her eyes.
Batarian extremists, commander. This isn’t going to end well. We should just take them all out. We could bomb this asteroid with the Normandy’s guns.
There are hostages in there, Garrus.
So if it comes down to saving those hostages or stopping that crazy bastard who’s doing all this – what’s it going to be Shepard? Are you going to negotiate with terrorists just to save just a few lives?
Not a chance. But if there’s any chance we can end this peacefully…
Kaidan remembered the conversation from just an hour ago – or had it even been that long? Shepard’s last words had been said almost like a prayer, as if she wasn’t sure she’d have the strength to make the right decision in the end.
“Commander, are you okay?” he asked, quietly. In the dark shadows of the Mako, Shepard’s face was lit by the red glow from the dash. She looked so tired.
“I’m fine,” was all she said.
It was funny, Kaidan thought. A week ago, he would have mistaken the grim set of her mouth for determination and disgust. Now he saw there was frustration there, too, and anger, and perhaps a little bit of…relief? He wanted to say something, maybe touch her back, but he knew it wasn’t his place.
He wished it was his place, though.
Blood splashed from the wound as the shoulder bone shattered. The criminal fell back into a crate, glaring at them with four beady eyes. Shepard held the gun high for one moment longer, and Kaidan had been sure her next shot would strike true. Then, inexplicably, the fire died. She turned to ice again, and lowered the gun.
It was a wonder she hadn’t ripped them all into shreds where they stood. Throughout the mission, the crackling from her amps was enough to make his teeth tingle. Kaidan could only imagine her history with them: first Mindoir, then the Blitz, now this. She’d dealt with the situation in a far more merciful manner than anyone else would have done Probably more so than he would have done.
The bodies were so burned that nothing remained but ash. Shepard stood there, head bowed, as if in penance for a crime she hadn’t committed.
“I’m glad you were there, Alenko,” Shepard said at last, her voice quiet in the near darkness.
“I’m glad you were there. Having you at my back – well, when you’re around, it makes me want to do the right thing, you know? It keeps me from becoming the monster I feel inside.”
“Monster?” Kaidan frowned. “Commander, you’re no monster. You did what had to be done. It was by the book - you know that.”
Shepard snorted. “The book sucks.” She paused a moment, then asked, “Kaidan, do you have any idea what it is to look into the heart of darkness and see yourself there?”
“I…” Kaidan blinked. “Where exactly are you going with this, ma’am?”
Shepard shook her head. To his amazement, she was chuckling. “The horror, the horror,” she murmured.
“Didn’t you ever read that book in school?”
“Right. I bet BAaTT didn’t really do classical literature.”
“We read books.”
“Just not Conrad.”
“Nothing.” She shook her head.
“Commander?” Garrus poked his head into the port hole of the Mako. “Repairs are made. This thing will drive again, though I’d really appreciate it if you could find a better way to deal with guard towers in the future than simply hoping our shields will protect us.”
“Do you have a problem with my driving, turian?” Shepard asked. She seemed oddly playful just now, Kaidan thought. Though he was getting better at reading her moods, the way in which one would lead into another still really threw him.
“Yeah, I do,” Garrus replied, climbing back into the tank to sit right between the commander and the lieutenant. “Next time, let Kaidan drive. He’s more restrained than you.”
“I find it’s best not to tell a woman how to drive, Garrus,” Kaidan told him.
“Whoa,” Shepard said, glaring over at Kaidan and then back at Garrus. “Are you two suggesting that I can’t drive because I’m a woman ?”
“Ah,” Garrus choked out a laugh. “It was nice knowing you, lieutenant.”
“No ma’am,” Kaidan said hastily. “It’s just that…”
“I learned how to drive one of these when I was twelve – colony living, you know.”
“Did you learn to shoot there, too?” Garrus asked.
“You saying I can’t shoot, either?” She raised her eyebrows. “Alright, Vakarian. You’re on .”
“You can shoot,” Garrus conceded hastily, “but your use of cover needs work.”
“So you two would rather that I, what? Just sit here in the Mako in my jumpsuit and look pretty?”
Both the man and the turian stared at her, then looked away and shifted uncomfortably.
“What?” Shepard asked, looking back and forth between the two of them. When neither said a word, she frowned. “Geez. Next time, I’m bringing Tali and Ashley with me. They won’t have such an issue with my driving.”
“Ashley would probably approve of your head-on approach to the towers,” Kaidan observed wryly.
“Damn straight, she would,” Shepard said. “Alright, men. If you’re done questioning my driving abilities, let’s radio the Normandy and get off this rock.”