Shepard first checked in on the salarians, then the gear, then the squad, and then Liara, before she told herself that she really ought to talk to Kaidan. She found him sitting alone in the mess, staring into a coffee cup that had probably been empty for over an hour. As she approached the table, she found she had no idea what to say.
“Commander,” he said, stiffly. She sat down across from him.
“Look,” she began, not able to meet his eyes, “About Williams…”
“I was out of line,” he said. “I shouldn’t have brought it up like that – forced you to say what you did in the comm room. Adrenaline, you know.” He sighed. “I woke up and Chakwas told me I needed to rest. She threatened to sedate me. But I just had to come and make sure you were alright. And I had to know why…”
He broke off, and Shepard didn’t have the heart to answer his unasked question.
“You saved me because of rank, right?” he asked. “Because I was on your squad; because you needed to protect the bomb.”
“You know why else,” she murmured, looking up at him at last. Their eyes met, and she saw sorrow in his expression. It mirrored her feelings exactly.
“Shepard,” he said, squeezing his eyes shut. “I can’t… God, if you saved me because of that, then I’ll never forgive myself for having gotten so familiar with you. I never should have put you in a situation where your feelings overruled your judgment.”
“Kaidan,” she said, a little more sharply than she meant to, “have you ever known me to make a decision where my feelings overruled my judgment? Have you ever done that?”
“Well, no, but…”
“Liara was right: there is no right choice here. And even if there was, I think I made it. I know it was the right thing to do to choose you.”
“I’m not so sure…”
“But,” she added, her voice low, “I was damn glad that I could justify doing what I already wanted to do.”
“You wanted to save me?”
“More than anything in the world.”
Kaidan swallowed and looked away. “I’ve never lost someone under my command,” he murmured.
“You have? Oh, of course – Jenkins.”
“Jenkins,” she nodded. “And Spencer. Takamura, Chang, Smithson and Lopez. Pope and Chan and Koller and Mikailev. And Iverson.” She sighed. “It never gets easier.”
“Were those people from the Blitz?”
“Iverson was from a pirate raid,” she told him. “Chan and Koller, merc fire. Mikailev, a wound that got bad. The rest – yeah, they were friends from the Blitz. I lost five people that night – made my first in-action kill. The first and the second and sixty-seventh.” She shook her head.
“Hell of a way to start a career,” Kaidan observed.
“Yeah. And it doesn’t get any easier. But somehow, loosing Williams.” She crossed her arms on the table before her. “It’s like loosing my family to Mindoir all over again.”
“How did you deal with that?” he murmured. “I’ve lost people, but not as many as you.”
“I never gets easier,” Shepard frowned, but her voice was thoughtful. “I guess it sounds cold, but I just walked on. I promised to make it count.” She laughed bitterly, “Whatever it is, anyway.”
She unfolded her arms and looked at her outstretched hands. Kaidan looked at her hands, too, then took one of them in his own. His hands were warm and calloused, and Shepard let her fingers close around his.
“I feel terrible,” Kaidan said, staring at their fingers. “I’m grateful you saved me, but I can’t help feeling it’s my fault. And then I just get so angry at Saren, I…” He broke off as a flicker of blue biotic energy slipped along his outstretched arm.
“But most of all,” he continued softly, “I just keep thinking that I would do anything - *anything * - to keep you safe.”
“I want to keep you safe, too,” she replied.
“But our work isn’t safe.”
“No,” she shook her head. “We do the unsafe so the rest of the galaxy can have the safe.”
“I know that, I do,” he looked down at their intertwined fingers again. “I know you didn’t save me because of our…because of us…”
“I didn’t,” she confessed. “And yet, I did.”
“I get you,” he said. “I know what you’re trying to say. You had to choose and the choice you wanted to make was the choice you had to make.”
“Exactly,” she said, glad he’d found the words she’d been looking for ever since it had happened.
“But Shepard,” he went on, staring at their hands, “The thing that really has me worried, is that after all that happened – all I can think is that I don’t want to lose you, too.”
“You mean when we go to fight Saren?”
“No, well, that too. Look, I know what death can do to people. Having a death in the family - it can tear people apart. All that sorrow and guilt, it can cause people to drift apart.” Kaidan gripped her hand tightly, as if to keep them from doing that by his mere touch. “You were so cold, today. I know you did it because you needed to get through it all, but please… We lost Ash. Don’t make me lose you, too. Don’t pull away from me, Shepard.”
Shepard met his gaze. “I don’t think I could even if I should, Kaidan. Not now.”
He smiled sadly. “You don’t know how glad I am to hear you say that.”
“I can guess,” she returned the sad smile. “I don’t think Ash would approve anyhow – us drifting apart because of her.”
“Because of Saren,” Kaidan corrected her.
“That would especially have pissed her off,” Shepard agreed with a slight laugh. “I can just see her yelling at us for that one.”
“Yeah,” Kaidan laughed, too, then squeezed Shepard’s hand. “Thank you, commander.”
“For saving my life. For being here. Take your pick.”
“Well,” she said, sure that she was probably blushing, “You’re welcome.” She looked around the mess. “God, I wish I had a beer.”
“Need a drink commander?”
“No,” Shepard replied, “just something to toast Ashley with. Let’s see: to Ashley,” She raised her hand with nothing in it but Kaidan’s hand. “The craziest, mouthiest, best friend anyone could have. May she be at peace, wherever she is. And may there be many angelic asses for her to check out as much as she pleases.”
“Hear, hear,” Kaidan laughed.