Shepard froze on the walkway, mid-stride. As the crackle of the comm died away, she could hear the sound of surf crashing against the rocks in the distance. A gentle breeze feathered her cheek. Above her, the sky was clear and blue. A few creatures that looked like gulls sailed on the wind.
And behind her a giant metal ship disappeared from view, down into the courtyard she had just left behind.
“Did you hear me, LT? The geth are on their way to where you are.” William’s voice crackled again.
“They’re already here,” Kaidan said, his voice steady in spite of the gunshots in the background. “Alright. That’s it. The bomb is set. Go get Williams, commander.”
Shepard couldn’t see his face, but she knew the expression. He would be frowning, his brow furrowed, his scarred lips set in a firm line.
“Damn it, Alenko, what are you doing?” she cried. But even as she said the words, she knew what he was doing. He was trying to save Ashely – to save her – to make sure their mission succeeded even if it cost him his life.
He was trying to keep her from having to choose.
“Screw that!” Ashley’s voice came over the comm. “I can take care of myself. If I can’t get past these geth to get to the rendezvous point, then that’s my problem. Go get Alenko, commander! Make sure that bomb goes off.”
“This bomb is going off,” Kaidan shouted back. “It’s set. Just get the hell out of here – both of you.”
“Shepard.” Garrus’ voice came from behind her – directly behind her. He sounded worried. No, more than that, he sounded as anguished as she felt.
There’s not enough time , Shepard mused, her thoughts seeming to come loose like beads without a string. * There was never enough time.*
Shepard remembered that moment on Eden Prime when she had found Williams, bleeding and alone, but still fighting on.
Kaidan is the ranking officer.
Shepard envisioned Ashley’s face, smirking over some private joke of theirs.
Kaidan is a medic, a technician, and a biotic. His skills are as unique as they are invaluable.
Shepard remembered talking with Ashley every time she went down to the hold to check on her team’s gear, remembered their conversations about family members now long gone.
Kaidan was on my team. My responsibility is to my team.
Shepard remembered how just last night, she and Ashley had arm wrestled, then shared a laugh about it over a beer.
Kaidan is all that stands between the geth and that bomb. If he gets killed, the geth could disarm it, and all our work here would be for nothing.
Shepard thought of Ashley’s treatment of the aliens on the crew – mistrustful at first, then respectful and even friendly in the end. Just an hour ago, Williams had gone off to work with a team of salarians without a complaint.
Kaidan is the best thing that ever happened to me.
The thought went through her mind like an arrow, shattering all the other thoughts.
No, no, no, and no. She thought, slamming a door shut on that part of her mind – that part of her heart. That shouldn’t matter. That couldn’t matter. She couldn’t make a decision about the lives of her crew with something like emotion hanging in the balance.
She had gone for so long without personal entanglements, personal ties, and now she almost found herself wishing that she had never gotten so close to her crew. Not just Kaidan, but Ashley as well. How could she make this choice. How could she return to the ship to face an empty locker?
She had suspected this mission would end badly. When she sent her gunnery chief off to help the salarian recon team and she and Kaidan snuck into Saren’s base to set a bomb, the thought occurred to her that she might never see her sister-in-arms again. She had hated the decision to split up her squad. Secretly, she had been glad that she needed Kaidan’s tech expertise to set the bomb, glad to have an excuse to keep him by her side – as he had always been.
But Ashley had been at her side through many missions, too. Shepard had guessed that she might lose someone in this tangled mission. She just didn’t think that she would lose anyone to a choice – to her choice.
She would save Kaidan; she knew she must, she knew she would. But she wanted to save him so badly, her heart aching to do so, that she almost couldn’t bear it. For a moment, she considered leaving him behind, saving Ashley from a brave death – a death made necessary by Saren’s treachery.
Even as the thought crossed her mind, Shepard’s face hardened. This was Saren’s fault. Her heart felt heavy, but her mind knew knew the truth:
This choice had been forced upon her.
And that just pissed her off.
A coldness settled over her. It was as welcome as it was empowering. She’d have to become like ice again to get through this. This was no time to be human. She had to move.
“Kaidan,” she snapped into the comm, her voice emotionless and determined, “Hold your position. We’re on our way back to you.”
“What?” he cried. “Shepard – Commander! No!”
“You know it’s the right thing, LT,” Ashley’s voice came over the comm. She sounded sad and weary, but also, strangely peaceful.
“Come on,” Shepard said to Garrus. “We need to move.” Then her voice nearly broke as she added, “Ashley…I…I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t regret a thing, Commander,” came the brave reply. “Now get out of here. And take care of each other…”
Ashley’s voice crackled out of reception and Shepard never heard it again.
Kaidan could scarcely see over the splashing water, could scarcely hear over the roar of the drain beside him. He figured he’d been shot at least five times. His leg was numb and his hands ached with every pistol shot and every biotic pulse he fired.
Just get out of here, Shepard, he kept thinking. *Just get yourself safe. Just * live , damn it. Don’t die trying to save me.
He shot another geth in the head. The creature dropped into the water that filled the courtyard. Kaidan sucked in a breath as something crested over the rise. Two geth, big ones, were charging him. Given the frequency of the shields surrounding them, they were powerful. They were probably the last thing he’d ever see.
That was too bad. He was kind of hoping he’d see Shepard’s face one last time.
Then, as if his thoughts had summoned her, there she was. The world seemed to pitch as a ball of blue-white energy twisted the air before him. The geth were pulled into Shepard’s singularity, then ripped to shreds by bullets. Garrus and Wrex fired round after round into the mass, Shepard’s precise pistol shots accentuating the chorus of assault rifle fire. Kaidan had never heard such a lovely sound.
Suddenly, there was a splash. Kaidan looked up to see Saren striding towards them. He didn’t have time to wonder where in the hell the rogue Spectre agent had come from. The turian shouted at Shepard, but Kaidan couldn’t quite hear what he was saying. Then he saw Saren swoop down on Shepard. She tried to knock the turian back with her biotics, but he caught her by the throat. The giant alien held Shepard aloft, her feet dangling helplessly. Kaidan felt, rather than heard himself shout her name. Beside him, the bomb suddenly rang out, a blasting sound that warned an explosion was imminent. Saren turned his head. For a moment, Kaidan felt a chill down all the way to his numb legs at the sight of those dead eyes.
Then Shepard punched the bastard in the head.
Kaidan almost laughed at that. Saren dropped her in surprise. Shepard shook her fingers – punching a turian right in the plated jaw had have to hurt – and grabbed her pistol. She stumbled to her feet and aimed it at Saren, but the turian had gone. Swearing loudly, she holstered the pistol and came running to Kaidan’s side.
“You were supposed to save Williams,” he told her. He intended his voice to be angry, censuring, even insubordinate, but it just came out soft and wondering. “You were supposed to leave me.” He could feel himself loosing consciousness.
“Joker!” Shepard snapped into her comm. “Where the hell are you?”
“Over your heads,” came the reply. “Dropping in now.”
“Shepard, I…” Kaidan gazed up into her face as she extended a hand to him. She was still shimmering with biotics, all white and blue light – like an angel, he thought. It was the last thing he remembered before passing out.